Credit Flow and Clean Boating Act Headline American Boating Congress Agenda

This year’s American Boating Congress will focus on several key issues, most notably the lack of access to credit and the shortage of financing available for dealer floorplans.

“I think that’s issue A,” said Mat Dunn, legislative director of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which produces ABC. “It continues to be a major problem for the industry, particularly as we anticipate an increase in production of boats in 2010. Working out the kinks in the credit market and distribution chain for the industry is going to continue to be a key issue for 2010.”

ABC is set for May 5-6 in Washington, D.C. at the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel, a new location for the conference that is within walking distance of the U.S. Capitol, public transportation and the NMMA office.

Similar to ABC 2009, this year’s conference schedule is streamlined to one full day of sessions on May 6, with supplemental meetings the previous day. The condensed schedule will allow attendees to minimize travel expenses and time away from their businesses.

Following an extensive program in the morning, the event includes visits to Capitol Hill in the afternoon.

“We think the Hill visits are crucial,” Dunn said. “They set the stage for future follow-up work from the lobbyists in this office, but they put a face on the issue for members of Congress and their staff – a local face and a local story.”

The passage of the Clean Boating Act, for example, was help along through visits to the Hill from the boating community, he noted.

Between 150-200 people are expected to attend ABC, with Dunn calling that a “really good number [of people] to flood the Hill.” About two weeks before the conference, the NMMA will host a webinar to provide information and answer questions attendees may have about Hill visits.

Dunn said he expects the financing issue to be a major discussion point between attendees, members of Congress and their staffs. The topic also will be discussed during the morning session and organizers hope to bring in members of the House of Representatives and the Senate who have been working on initiatives that would assist the industry with these pressing issues.

The Small Business Administration’s dealer financing program also promises to be a key part of these talks. The program, which was instituted last year, continues to be a source of frustration for dealers unable to find banks willing to work within its parameters.

“It was coming out of ABC last year when we talking about this problem,” Dunn said. “The Small Business Administration pilot program, the dealer program, was a topic then. It had not been completed yet, but shortly after ABC in the summer, that program was rolled out.

“We continue to urge changes to that program,” he added. “We hope those will be done sooner rather than later, but certainly the SBA program is not working as successful as we had hoped, so going to Congress to exert some pressure on the Small Business Administration will be a feature point of the Hill visits.”

Also included in these discussions will be job bills winding their way through Congress, which could include provisions related to the SBA dealer floorplan financing program.

Environmental issues also are on ABC’s agenda, with an update on the Clean Boating Act planned for the afternoon of May 5, and expected seminars on the status of E15 and legislation that would protect the boating industry from having to use this blend should the Environmental Protection Agency approve its use.

Industry stakeholders have repeate3dly told the administration that E15 causes severe damage to boat engines and could harm the industry as a whole.

This is a “hot issue,” Dunn said. “It’s going to get more intense as we go into the summertime when EPA has suggested it will be making a decision. May is a good month to begin a heavy conversation on this topic.”

As Congress moves into the middle of its session, Dunn said there may be efforts to pass an energy bill in the summer or fall, and some safeguards against E15 could be a part of that legislation, he said.

Another issue ABC will highlight is President Obama’s ocean policy initiative and the “escalating crisis as we see in fisheries management,’ as well as “the effort to do ocean zooming,” Dunn said.

And finally, the upcoming mid-term elections will be a part of the discussion.

“Election season is always a time where legislating slows down and members get skittish and they go home to run their re-election campaign,” Dunn said, adding the NMMA hopes to bring in a speaker who can talk about what we expect out of the 2010 midterm election, how that will change the political dynamic in Washington and what it means to the industry.

ABC’s regular registration, for $160, runs through April 19. After that date, late registration is available for $190. Online registration is only available through April 19.

The hotel bock also closes April 19.

For more information, or to register, visit: www.nmma.org/abc.

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