The 2019 American Boating Congress attracted a record high of 86 first-time visitors

The record number of attendees at last week’s American Boating Congress (ABC) included an historic high of 86 first-time attendees to the event, ranging from industry veterans, advocacy groups like Captains for Clean Water, and even people from outside the boating business.

One of the latter, Edelweiss Harrison, is a vice president with Capstone Strategic, a corporate development firm. While she has no marine clients, Harrison loves the boating industry, having crewed in the galley of a yacht 20 years ago. An experienced hand at the legislative process, Harrison declined to ‘grade’ boating’s advocacy efforts, but said it’s obvious progress is being made.

“The calibre of the speakers was pretty impressive, the dialogue has been respectful, and the growth in attendance is impressive,” she told IBI as the conference was winding down.

Harrison was quick to add that she was unaware that boating and outdoor recreation contribute more to the US economy than mining, agriculture or utilities.

“It’s not something you hear very often, but that tagline seems to be catching on [with law-makers and administrators who repeated it]. Those are indicators that on some level, the advocacy is working.”

Stingray Boats president Barry Avent was also an ABC first-timer, and said his role as a new National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA) board member and the 25-30% loss of export business his company is experiencing fueled his decision to participate in this year’s Congress.

”The [elected officials] and staff that we met with are diligent to try and resolve issues, but we also need to straighten China out,” Avent told IBI during the Congress. “The US economy is doing pretty good. Our US business is up 10%, but that just means I’m off 15-20% on the other side.”

Avent said now more than ever, it is important for business people to get involved.

“There’s an awful lot of people who need to understand what the process is. You don’t turn this ship in a day; it takes years,” he said, adding: “What we can affect today may be able to help us next year or the year after. Our dealers need to see this. We just need to educate everyone on how we can make it work.”

NMMA’s senior VP of government and legal affairs, Nicole Vasilaros, attributes the growth in ABC’s attendance speaks to the value of the event.

“People have come here in years past, and are telling other’s it’s a very good use of your time,” she told IBI. “More people have been hearing about our advocacy work at boat shows and other forms of engagement and we’re getting the message out. The good news is, they are responding and joining us here in DC, and we hope to have another 86 [new attendees] or more next year.”