My top takeaway from three days in our nation’s capital for the 2019 edition of the American Boating Congress? That every American, regardless of what it is they do for a living, should spend a day on Capitol Hill, meeting with lawmakers from their district, having their voices and opinions heard, and getting a glimpse into how Washington works.
I am not a political person by nature, and if you had asked me a week ago if I was particularly interested in how laws are made, my answer might have been mostly indifference. No longer! After hearing speeches from key Congressional leaders, Cabinet members and spending the day on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers and their staff, consider my curiosity and interest officially piqued.
And while I can’t speak for them, I’m pretty sure NMMA’s Thom Dammrich and Nicole Vasilaros, the other organizers, as well as the attendees I spent time with, consider the event a big success.
Consider these big numbers; an all-time record 350 attendees (up from 250 just a year ago), 27 co-hosts (Boating Industry among them), 25 young professionals, 24 sponsors, and over 200 meetings on Capitol Hill.
And the importance and impact of the recreational boating industry is further evidenced by the quality of the speakers who made time in their busy schedules to speak to the group; Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt (via video) many members of Congress, as well as Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier, and political strategists Kevin Madden and Adrienne Elrod.
Commerce Secretary Ross began his remarks by pointing out the growth of the marine industry has outpaced that of the general economy, and highlighting the 2.2% contribution to U.S. GDP that the outdoor recreation industry generates.
“We at Commerce understand and appreciate the contribution the boating industry makes to our nation, not only in terms of jobs and output, but also in our psychological well-being. We are committed to creating an even stronger partnership with more manufacturers and the entire boating community.”
As a first-time attendee of ABC and being so new to my role at Boating Industry, I really enjoyed the opportunity to network and meet so many members of the recreational boating community.
Issues workshops on infrastructure, workforce development, E15, tariffs, clean water and boating safety were also interesting.
But I think my favorite component of the conference was traveling to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers, and discussing several key topics of importance to the entire industry. We also all left behind well-prepared packets of information and talking points about the boating industry’s economic contribution.
Alumacraft fishing boat company president James Irwin was in the meetings I attended on the hill, and he emphasized to lawmakers the importance of supporting vocational training, including access to Pell Grants.
“Like lots of industries, we have dozens of job openings because we simply can’t find the people to fill them,” said Irwin. “Demand outpaces capacity and we would certainly increase production if we could. So we are trying to be creative about how we recruit and retain. Overall though I really enjoyed the experience and it was valuable to see how the boating industry is making its voice heard.”
Making its voice heard. I would opine that the recreational boating industry accomplished that at the 2019 American Boating Congress, and more.
As outgoing NMMA president Thom Dammrich said, “Ahead of the 2020 election, major policy decisions are on the horizon and it’s critical that we’re at the table with decision makers to influence priorities of the new Congress and White House and ensure a bright future for our industry.”