By Jamie Stafford
For the last two years, the American Boating Congress (ABC) has looked a little different, playing out over the virtual space created by zoom windows and shared screens. Now, May 11-13, 2022, it returns to the familiarity of an in-person event – with a few new changes.
The American Boating Congress is the premier advocacy summit for recreational boating stakeholders, organized and hosted by NMMA. ABC brings those in the boating industry together to meet with policymakers in Washington D.C. This is all in an effort to create a platform for issues in the marine industry to be heard by the administration.
Last year’s American Boating Congress was the second instance of an entirely virtual venue, but NMMA didn’t let that keep them from bringing industry issues to the forefront with policymakers. ABC 2021 had over 800 attendees from all over the recreational boating industry. Tariffs were a major focus throughout the event. Through their advocacy work, NMMA successfully combated the 25% retaliatory import tax on trade from the European Union. Another big win from last year was the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that was eventually passed into law. The Infrastructure Bill provided much needed support to federal land developments such as public marinas.
We spoke to Callie Hoyt, Director of Federal Government Relations, and John-Michael Donahue, Vice President of North American Public Affairs, about what to expect for ABC 2022 as we return to real life and leave zoom screens behind. “We’re definitely excited to be back in-person,” Donahue says. For NMMA, being back in-person means bringing policymakers face-to-face with the industry’s concerns.
“We can have more intimate discussions about what our industry’s needs are – talking about this really great growth we’re having but also what types of hurdles are going to come up because of that growth,” says Hoyt. The growth that has bolstered recreational boating throughout the pandemic was a boon, but not an everlasting one. As we look to the future of the marine industry, creative solutions are at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
One creative solution for getting policymakers involved is the product showcase. The product showcase, held at the Wharf in D.C., is the first of its kind for NMMA. It’s designed to allow those in legislation to get out on the water and really experience the passion that drives this industry. Part business and part play, it will facilitate the vital connections necessary for proper representation in congress.
“What we’re doing with the product showcase is bringing in new products and bringing administration folks down to the Wharf to have those important conversations, while also showing exactly what those new and exciting products are,” Hoyt explains. Donahue adds, “it provides the opportunity for us to bring in industry products, all the latest and greatest innovations. It’s really to entice people to come down and interact with the products.”
Beyond the showcase, ABC 2022 will be focusing on issues that deal with trade, infrastructure, and small businesses. Tariffs are back on the agenda as NMMA fights to get the industry excluded from the China Section-301 tariffs. “We’re going to use this opportunity to emphasize with the Biden administration that there are some trade issues that still linger for us,” Donahue comments.
Hoyt agrees that “trade is going to continue to be a top-tier issue for us at ABC. Beyond that, we’re going to keep talking about infrastructure.” The Water Infrastructure Bill is up for reauthorization in December, so NMMA plans to take full advantage of ABC 2022 to push for “more funding, better resources, better management tools for federal land management agencies that are managing public boating access,” according to Hoyt.
NMMA is also focused on the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) and the Prepare Act, both of which provide vital funding for different areas of marine infrastructure; the latter provides small businesses with loans to make investments in climate-resilient infrastructure.
While these issues might be familiar, not all pre-pandemic practices could make it into ABC 2022. Due to protocols put in place during the past two years, Capitol Hill visits are not guaranteed.
“If it’s highly likely that we won’t be going up to the Hill, we’ll have to find new ways to go to congressional leaders and their staff,” says Donahue. However, this doesn’t mean that industry movers won’t be able to speak with those on Capitol Hill. It’s very important for legislators to hear from their constituents.
“What really makes for an impactful discussion with policymakers is telling your story,” Hoyt says. She also stresses that you do not have to be an expert in policy and government to make a difference at ABC 2022. “It’s our [NMMA’s] job to be policy experts. At the end of the day, it’s an interpersonal industry, and this kind of advocacy is all about making those connections.”
Now, you may be fired up about ABC 2022, but there are also advocacy opportunities outside of this event as well. Getting involved with NMMA provides many possibilities to get involved with wider issues that impact the marine industry. The Currents newsletter from NMMA goes out daily and is a great way to stay informed on events. Boating United is another great resource.
Callie Hoyt explains, “Boating United is our grassroots advocacy arm. When legislation is at a pivotal point in D.C., we send out action alerts to NMMA members so they can reach out to their representatives directly on these issues.” Advocacy doesn’t begin and end at the American Boating Congress. It is a year-round effort carried out by those hard at work at NMMA, and by industry professionals all over the country. Perhaps some may still be wondering – why all of this? What does American Boating Congress do for the people who center their livelihoods on the water? NMMA constantly works to ensure that your taxes are going towards issues that matter to the industry and to you directly. The American Boating Congress is so effective because it connects industry professionals like you to your representatives in Congress, and it allows policymakers to see the impact of their legislation. The marine industry is uniquely positioned across bipartisan issues. This makes progress readily attainable. “NMMA helped pass the historic Great American Outdoors Act in 2020, at the height of partisanship,” Callie Hoyt comments, “and that really demonstrates how recreation – the industry and the community – has such strong bipartisan support that we’re able to get stuff done.”