NMMA president Thom Dammrich speaks to IBI at this year’s American Boating Congress in Washington

When Thom Dammrich started as president of the National Marine Manufacturers’ Association (NMMA) 20 years ago, industry advocacy was a necessary evil, almost an afterthought. But two years ago, a decision to switch from defense to offense, and the subsequent action to do so, has paid off is some very big ways.

“We had been very reactive, focused on defense – keeping bad things from happening to us,” Dammrich told IBI during the 2019 American Boating Congress (ABC) in Washington, DC. “We still have to do that, but we are much more focused on identifying what we want and going on the offensive to get it.”

Dammrich said the NMMA board of directors decided in the autumn of 2017 that the legislative environment was changing dramatically enough at the state and federal level that a more aggressive posture should be struck.

The NMMA’s legislative staff was nearly doubled with the addition of regional state representation and some US$800,000 was added to the budget.

Dammrich cites the passage of the Modern Fish Act in the US, and the lifting of retaliatory tariffs in Canada as the most recent examples that advocacy pays off.

Comparing when he started in the industry to today, the outgoing NMMA president points to a political action committee (PAC) that went from raising US$38,000 to US$250,000; an ABC attendance of 114, compared to more than 350; and from 75 visits with member of Congress compared to the 250 that occurred on Tuesday.

The NMMA has written to Congress, requesting seven items be included in the appropriations bill that would positively help the boating industry and the boating consumer and are looking to “introduce more legislation than fight legislation that others introduce.”

While a number of issues are on the agenda for ABC, the focus is on the tariff and trade war that has been seriously impacting US marine sales overseas. The impact on such a broad swath of the industry is the reason attendance this year has surged over 40% from last year. When the trade and tariff dust settles, however, Dammrich said it is important that the industry stay engaged for the long-term.

“We need to make friends before we need them. There will be another major issue down the road, but in the absence of a major issue like the luxury tax or tariffs, there are dozens and dozens and dozens of issues here in Washington or in the state capitols that impact our industry and we have to stay engaged on regularly. My hope is that we’ll see ABC and industry engagement continue to grow.