He sits at the helm of the largest marine trade organization in the Southeastern U.S, one that represents nearly 140,000 employees, injects $11.5 billion into the regional economy and draws visitors from 50-plus countries to its Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. There is no one with a better pulse on the South Florida marine industry than Phil Purcell. Purcell for the last nearly five years has served as chief executive officer and president of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida (MIASF). ALL AT SEA (AAS) posed six questions to Purcell (PP) about industry hot topics and an outlook for the 2018-2019 upcoming season.
AAS: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the South Florida marine industry? What do these mean for industry members and recreational boaters?
PP: Florida is the number one state for boat registrations and the state is the third largest in the nation. South Florida is the biggest metropolitan statistical area in the Southeast, and Fort Lauderdale is known as the ‘yachting capital of the world’. These are all positives. However, because of growth, infrastructure needs, a requirement to replenish our workforce, affordable housing challenges, and transportation, we must find solutions for our roadways including bridges over major east/west corridors and our New River. This solution could be in the form of public-private-partnerships or otherwise. Our proximity to the Caribbean and Bahamas requires us to steward those relationships as well as to work with elected officials on local, state and federal levels. As a multi-billion-dollar regional marine industry, we understand that many other areas of the U.S. and World would welcome the opportunity to participate more in our industry. This could result in job loss and businesses relocating.
AAS: One of MIASF’s latest accomplishments is marine industry Free Trade Zones (FTZ) in South Florida. So far, how have these aided the industry and recreational boaters?
PP: FTZs are very familiar in aviation and other industries, although not so much in marine environments. We created the first one of its kind here in Fort Lauderdale. It will take some education and it’s going to take some time to activate the sites and create awareness for the benefits to be realized. FTZs will get better with time and utilization.
AAS: What have you seen or heard from other marine trade organizations in the U.S. and World that might be beneficial to bringing to MIASF?
PP: Other regions have done well in activating internship and apprenticeship programs with government support. We need to do this as well as for blue-collar and white-collar jobs in the industry.
AAS: How are current trends in boat building, especially in size and complexity, influencing what is required for South Florida’s marine industry to stay competitive as a servicing, repair and refit capital for these vessels?
PP: One of the nice things we’ll see is some 3-D printing of parts and boats on a small scale. But as boats become more complex, with A/V, navigation, or lighting, the opportunity exists for humans to do this work instead of machines. The skillsets that reside here and disciplines that reside here are not easily replaceable. Another thing we’re seeing has been a shift in the center console market in terms of larger vessels with more outboards and away from inboard/outboard in a lot of vessels. The more complex, the more need for our workforce locally that serves a global fleet.
AAS: What are the biggest labor force needs in the regional marine industry?
PP: No different than in aviation, automotive and construction. We need carpenters, welders, electricians and skilled tradesman. We have consciously taken a seat at the table at trade schools, where we work with and create an opportunity for students to learn about our industry and hire them directly out of classes. On a bigger scale, we influence trade school curriculum and a create a pathway for students, which is why we began producing the Salty Jobs video series.
AAS: Finally, what are the biggest environmental/sustainability concerns facing the South Florida marine industry? What can the industry as well as individuals do to help these matters?
PP: The good news is that boaters are environmentally conscious and go to great lengths to ensure we have a healthy marine environment. Things outside our control, like global emissions and sea level rise, incent us and other industries to reduce our footprints and ease some of the pressures on the oceans and inland waterways in their current state.