Industry goes politicking

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Takes its message of economic clout — $72 billion — and jobs to the parties’ national conventions

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The National Marine Manufacturers Association took advantage of this summer’s national political conventions to make its case that the boat industry is an integral piece of the U.S. economy.

Appeals for supportive policies that began at the Republican and Democratic national conventions will continue through the election season, says Nicole Vasilaros, the NMMA’s head of state government affairs. “We will continue to build fund-raising and to get legislators out to manufacturing plants to see how boats are made and to see the jobs impact that our small-business owners have,” Vasilaros says. “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers, not only on Capitol Hill but also on a state level.”

The NMMA also is working with the Department of Commerce to strengthen boat exports. Boatbuilding is one of few industries in which the United States enjoys a positive trade balance. “That has been a huge benefit for our industry, particularly as economic times have hardened, that we can reach markets outside the U.S.,” Vasilaros says.

NMMA staff emphasized to convention delegates and members of Congress the importance of implementing policies that enable small businesses to provide jobs in their communities. The trade organization says many at the conventions were surprised to learn that marine manufacturing contributes $72 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

Industry representatives spent time Aug. 28 at the Republican National Convention, where Hurricane Isaac thwarted plans to offer delegates informative boat rides. They went to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 4, where lawmakers were able to learn about the industry while on the water. “We definitely emphasized the manufacturing aspect of our industry and the fact that most boats in the U.S. are manufactured by small American business owners,” says Vasilaros, who organized the events.

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Despite the threat of Isaac looming over the Republican gathering, nearly 100 attendees participated in demonstrations and discussions focused on the importance of the recreational boating industry to the economy, says Lauren Dunn, NMMA public relations manager for government relations. “Though the weather didn’t hold up for boat rides, we had a great exhibit space with over a dozen booths representing our economic, safety and new technology messaging with a range of our member manufacturers’ products,” Dunn says.

Attendees included delegates from Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, as well as U.S. Reps. Austin Scott, R-Ga., Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., and Lamar Smith, R-Texas. Reporters from local, trade and national media outlets covered the event, Dunn says.

‘Fantastic’ venues

At the Democratic convention, nearly 125 delegates, members of Congress and attendees participated in the demonstrations and discussions. “Right now it’s such an important story for our lawmakers to hear and understand,” Dunn says. “We are really trying to drive that message a little bit better, and for us, the conventions were a fantastic place to do that.”

The presentations to Democrats took place at the Peninsula Yacht Club on Lake Norman, N.C. Delegates from Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee attended, as well as U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., Dunn says. McIntyre and his staff of five attendees enjoyed boat and personal watercraft rides, and several reporters from local and trade media outlets covered the event.

“Our industry definitely reaches across all 50 states, from manufacturing down to the dealer level,” Vasilaros says. “And keep in mind that delegates are everyday, average citizens that have jobs. They’re not all elected officials, and that’s why it’s so nice to reach out to them.

“Delegates were from large boat-manufacturing states, such as North Carolina, which has a significant boatbuilding presence,” she adds. The impact of that manufacturing presence reaches the work force as well as the small-business owners running companies, she says.

The NMMA has been emphasizing that boatbuilding is one of the few U.S. industries remaining in which the products are almost exclusively American-made.

‘Real money’

“It was really sort of amazing,” Vasilaros says. “For some people, it was really the first time hearing about the boating industry’s impact, and for some it was really their first time out on a PWC or jetboat. [Ours] is a bipartisan industry, and that’s why we wanted to get to both [conventions]. Despite some of the other issues out there, we have an important story to get out. The boating industry has a $72 billion economic impact. That’s real money that both Republicans and Democrats need to hear about.”

Industry representatives also helped educate lawmakers about problems with ethanol in fuel, as well as the recent court ruling that allowed E15 at the pumps. Representatives of Gevo Inc., which produces the alternative biofuel isobutanol, attended both conventions to discuss its research, conducted in conjunction with NMMA, and help delegates understand why higher ethanol formulations are hurting the industry.

“In this election year, the recreational boating industry is taking its place on the national stage as not only a fun, family activity but as a key economic driver for the United States,” the NMMA wrote in the Washington Wave, its publication focused on policy. “NMMA seized the opportunity to bring together state delegates, policy-makers, members of Congress and the voters they serve.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue.

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