As part of the South Florida’s first Marine Industry Day in June, business leaders gathered to discuss the future of yachting, and it is dockage.
“We’re all turning boats away on a regular basis,” said James Brewer, director of sales and marketing at Derecktor Shipyard on the Dania Cut-off Canal. “Dockage is paramount. The more boats we can get here, the more business there is for everyone.”
Several speakers in two panel discussions reiterated the same need.
“Ft. Lauderdale is a melting pot of talent, but we find we’re saying ‘no’ to so many vessels that are unable to come here,” said Dean du Toit, owner of National Marine Suppliers. “Dockage is the biggest problem we have. We [South Florida] haven’t been able to provide it. We have the talent, the companies, but we don’t have the facilities.”
Du Toit employs 145 people at NMS and travels the world provisioning and outfitting yachts. His company is working with 21 new builds in Europe, none of which can come to South Florida because of draft and dockage limitations.
One project that will add up to 10 slips for the largest yachts in South Florida has begun at Pier 66. The slips are expected to be open later this year.
The other main challenge for the industry is the lack of awareness in the local community — and the subsequent lack of governmental support — of the significance of the industry.
South Florida’s marine industry employs more than 107,000 people in the tri-county area, 90,000 of whom are in Broward County and Ft. Lauderdale. More than 5,500 marine-related companies are based or have an office here, and the industry generates nearly $9 billion in revenue each year, about the same as tourism in Ft. Lauderdale and citrus statewide.
“One 200-foot vessel coming into town can do a $10 million refit,” du Toit said. “That involves so many companies, touches so many lives. That opportunity is not known to the whole community.”
“The industry is a huge driver of the economy here, and it starts with the shipyard,” Brewer said. “It’s why they [boats] come here, but it gives a vast network of support businesses a chance to grow. As a result, we have the largest concentration of marine-related businesses anywhere in the world.”
One thing that can make that known is to market South Florida as a destination.
“Services are substantially cheaper here than in Europe so owners have an incentive now to come here,” Brewer said. “We have to do a better job marketing to them. We each market individually, and the USSA is slowly doing it. But we have to come together.
The best opportunities to have the greatest impact in the industry in the next 24 months include building that awareness, getting government support, committing to and building more dockage, and making sure the waterways remain deep and clear.
“Additional investment in infrastructure is needed, and dockage is key,” Brewer said. “We’re a service industry, and we need to be able to provide services.
“The refit business is the bread-and-butter of the industry here, and at the moment, it’s driven by a recovering economy,” he said. “This is my fourth or fifth recession. An uptick in refit work predates an uptick in the general economy, but that’s not necessarily true in this situation because there’s been such a drag on confidence, but it’s coming back.”
One factor of industry awareness is getting governments and government agencies to recognize the importance of the industry and commit to not only protecting it but helping it grow. The panelists offered myriad suggestions as to how they could do that, including incentives, tax policies on par with neighboring states and training subsidies.
And there was one big way the county government — which oversees Port Everglades — could help today.
“We need the port to give up a little space, to recognize that the marine industry is important,” said du Toit, who made reference to the casino boat that gets prime dockage at the southwest corner of the ICW at the 17th Street bridge. That area could berth several large yachts docked stern-to. “It’s such a waste of revenue for us.
“I do not think we have enough government support,” he said. “The Italian government came to Ft. Lauderdale to see what we have here. They recognize Ft. Lauderdale as the yachting capital of the world. We’re losing when the port does not recognize the importance of the marine industry.”
One of the big challenges for more governmental support is the fact that the industry is made up of so many small companies. Often, government grants are grander in nature, for large corporations to make significant impacts.
But there is a way, said David Coddington, vice president of business development at the Greater Ft. Lauderdale Alliance, the public/private partnership for economic development for Broward County.
“To take advantage of grants, you have to work together on things like consortium grants,” he said. “We can work on that.”
But first, he said, the industry needs a return-on-investment report, a study that will show how much business and how many jobs are impacted when a project such as a marina or haul-out slip is created.
“That would make it an easier sell to the city and county where incentives are involved,” Coddington said.
In addition to marketing awareness is the need to attract more skilled workers to the industry, both on land and at sea. Maritime Professional Training sees 10,000 students pass through its doors each year.
“That’s a huge economic impact in and of itself, but those students are living here, their kids are going to school here, they buy cars here,” said Lisa Morley, vice president of sales and marketing at MPT. “They’re living their lives here, but they’re working at sea.
“We’re not aware of what we all do, so how can we expect the community to know?” she said. “On the local, state and national level, we’ve got to let people know.”
“This is the biggest industry I have ever seen that people don’t even see,” said Jay Lasner, CEO of International Crew Training, who is also a physician. “We need to take the blinders off the community.”
The industry can help educators by providing expertise, either in the form of suggestions or boots-on-the-ground support. For example, local public marine magnet schools need businesses to offer mentorships to students, and Broward College needs more instructors for its marine-related curriculum.
“There are a ton of professionals out there who want to give back to their community and this is a great way to do it,” said Russell McCafferty, dean of the transportation programs at Broward College.
It starts, though, with the industry coming together and shaking things up, said Philip Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.
“We need to get uncomfortable again,” he said. “There are lots of opportunities. If we get uncomfortable we can grow this industry.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.