15 May 2012
USSA makes progress in Washington
For the last four years, the USSA has been regularly heading to Washington DC to improve communication with legislators and try to ease the way for superyachts in the US, both in the water and out of it. This year was a watershed moment for the Association, and I was there to witness the surge in momentum on Capitol Hill. The Association assembled a group of 17, including 10 board members, to take part in the American Boating Congress, hosted by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) in late April.
The aim was to educate Capitol Hill about superyachts, forge relationships with the legislators and enforcers, and address pressing issues that are or could hold back the superyacht industry in the US. The USSA group collectively met with over 30 senators and congressmen over the two days.
Armed with statistics from The Superyacht Group’s Economic Analysis for the Superyacht Industry (EASI), one of the major objectives was to try and overcome the misconception that the superyacht industry only benefits the ultra wealthy.
NMMA figures state the annual value of the US recreational boating market is around $31bn, from 12 million vessels, which is the same as the global impact of the 4,400-strong superyacht fleet, according to the EASI. The US currently has a 20 per cent market share of this, a value of $6.1bn, directly employing more than 28,000 people. Putting these figures in front of legislators in Washington is key to showing the value of attracting superyachts to visit or have work done.
“Sixty per cent of my business at Bluewater Books & Charts is with superyachts, and this is up over the last three years compared to the recreational boat business we do,” said John Mann, USSA chairman. “A key part of the message we took to Washington is that superyachts are a big, important part of the recreational marine market and there is lots of room for growth. It is not just about building yachts; 50 per cent of the US superyacht market is suppliers and manufacturers.
“The marine industry, from large shipyards to small suppliers, is a vital part of Mississippi’s economy,” said Senator Wicker, who I met with other members of the group. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we should be encouraging opportunities for them to create jobs. It is important to hear from businesses and entrepreneurs that are trying to grow as Congress considers reforming tax and regulatory policies that will have a direct impact on various sectors of the economy.”
It’s a long process to win ears and allies on the Hill, and the benefits are rarely seen instantly, said Peter Schrappen, who works for the North West Marine Association and spends significant time working with government officials. He said that in his experience, the group wins by showing up, by demonstrating first-hand that it means business, but the returns on investment and energy are mostly not immediate. “It truly is a drip, drip, drip approach and for our group this was the first drip,” he explained.
Before the ABC, the USSA visited Washington this January and will be returning again to the capital in July. As well as education about superyachts and petitioning for legislative reform, a key part of the Association’s visits to the capital includes working with associations on both national and state levels to effect regulation changes for superyacht operations in US waters.
Some of the strongest channels of communication that have been established are those with the US Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and the State Department, which the USSA meets with four to six times per year. On the first day of the ABC, each of the three agencies met with the USSA to discuss policy and protocol. Hebert says that this panel was symbolic of the success of the individual relationships that have developed between the agencies and USSA team: “To have all three agencies in Washington to sit down with the superyacht industry come to us is significant; these are people who are effecting policy and procedure for superyachts.”
There will be further discussion of the trip and general advocacy progress in Washington DC in the seminar "The Government and the Authorities - Friend of Foe?" during the American Superyacht Forum next week in Fort Lauderdale. The panel will include Mann and Hebert, as well as USSA advocacy co-chair Corey Ranslem and Carlos Vidueira of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.
An extended article looking at the events and progress at this year's ABC will appear in the US Editor's column in The Superyacht Report Issue 135.
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