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Lobbying for a change

By Liz Walz

Regardless of political affiliation, I don’t think many Americans that content with the state of the economy or the health of the federal government these days.

But there is only so much you can do. You have work of your own, right? Running a marine business is a tough job. A full-time job.

Here’s the trouble with that attitude – what happens in your local, state and federal government often has a REAL impact on your work.

If there was a class you could take or a book you could read that would make your business more successful, you would buy it, wouldn’t you? Lobbying is another tool that is critical to your success.

Says Don McKenzie, owner of Boats Inc., Niantic, Conn.: “You as a business owner and employer can make a difference. I doubt there is anything more important for a successful dealer to do.”

Let me give you two examples. I recently traveled to Albany, N.Y., for the Empire State Marine Trades Association Advocacy Day. There were four of us from the Central New York Region, and we bounced around from legislative office to legislative office talking about a few main issues.

One of them was invasive species, the introduction of which can be devastating on an ecosystem. You want to prevent the spread of invasive species, and so do your customers. And yet many legislators fail to realize that our industry doesn’t often support the legislation out there designed to reduce this problem.

Many of these proposed laws are unenforceable and therefore ineffective; greatly increase the hassle of boating, even for those who know the rules and play by them; or unfairly punish the uneducated. Instead, we’d like to see an increase in stewardship programs that educate boaters and engage them in protecting a resource that they greatly enjoy.

Another issue is boating safety certification. Again, it is in the best interest of marine businesses when boaters are educated on how to boat safely. But much of the boating safety legislation out there is ineffective at best and even harmful to our industry’s businesses.

Legislators need to understand that you support and contribute to boating safety. And they need to see the data that shows that boating safety certification doesn’t necessarily result in a safer boating state.

Yes, there are people out there who get paid to send these messages to your legislators, to protect your businesses and your customers on your behalf.

But even the best of these lobbyists need relationships built by you, business owners and managers, to excel at their jobs. A recent study by the Congressional Management Foundation and the Society for Human Resource Management reported that 95 percent of members of Congress said “staying in touch with constituents” is the part of their job most critical to their effectiveness.

The best way to stay in touch is face-to-face visits with legislators. In a previous CMF study, in-person constituent visits were identified by the most respondents (46 percent) as a method with “a lot of positive influence.” This compares to the effectiveness of contact by representatives, such as association lobbyists, which only 36 percent of respondents identified as a method with “a lot of positive influence.”

I’m not saying you need to put on yet another hat in your business. I know you’re already wearing enough of those. But I am recommending that you begin by setting aside a few days a year to represent your business among government legislators.

Research your local, state and Congressional representatives, and pick one to get to know this year. Set up an in-person appointment to meet with that person at their office or at your business. Invite this legislator to attend your big events and introduce them to your employees and customers. When they can see how your business benefits their constituents, they’ll become an even bigger supporter of yours.

Make plans to attend your state’s boating advocacy day. Then schedule a trip to Washington, D.C., for your industry’s national advocacy day, the American Boating Congress, which is scheduled for May 9 this year.

By investing just a few days per year, you can create the foundation for your business’ and our industry’s success. It’s time to lobby for a change.

Liz Walz is director of membership & marketing for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. To learn more, visit www.mraa.com or email her at liz@mraa.com.


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