Spotlight On: Phil Purcell, President & CEO, Marine Industries Association of South Florida

Spotlight On: Phil Purcell, President & CEO, Marine Industries Association of South Florida

2021-11-15T15:16:55+00:00November 15th, 2021|Economy, Fort Lauderdale, Greater Fort Lauderdale, Marine, Spotlight On|

IGFL Marine Industries Association of South Florida Phil Purcell.jpg2 min read November 2021 — Phil Purcell, president and CEO of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, is bullish on the future of the marine industry, expecting further growth while also seeing challenges in managing the increasing demand. In an interview with Invest:, Purcell said he is confident in the ability of local stakeholders to be able to rise to the occasion and provide a welcoming environment to those looking to be out on the water. 

How has the industry grown over the last year?

We had 35% growth in our industry, with the bulk of it being new boaters. We’ve seen a tremendous number of people coming into our industry and the trend continued at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show with the number of new buyers. 

During the pandemic, and still now, there’s been $2 billion of marine infrastructure acquired between Fort Pierce and Miami. Safe Harbor Marinas, is an example, where they spent more than $700 million in total when purchasing Rybovich and Lauderdale Marine Center this year. Our industry has experienced unprecedented growth amid relocations of major corporations, family offices and entrepreneurs who have bought into our industry. That has been huge. 

How is the Marine Industries Association of South Florida working to resolve workforce issues?

The Yacht Service Technician Apprenticeship Program at Atlantic Technical College is a two-year certification program that we’d like to expand, adding other verticals down the road, but even finding instructors right now is difficult. In terms of labor issues, the good news is that an industry  job itself is one of the best opportunities for local residents. A kid out of high school can make $45,000 a year and travel the world working onboard a vessel. There are schools like Maritime Professional Training (MPT), which has 12,000 students a year from around the globe attending classes to earn their certification. When you look at yacht technicians, there’s also Broward College with its own ABYC program that has been sold out the last couple of years in terms of availability for participants. We’ll probably have to look at how we grow these programs, how do we make sure our businesses look to those programs first for their employees, and how do they support those programs? We need to make sure that the entire industry in Florida uses these programs to hire from, because the more they hire the bigger the programs can get. 

Keep in mind that Florida is the No. 1 state for boating. Over the next decade, we’re going to grow to 6 million people. If you look at the average conversion rate from boats to people, it’s 5% or about 300,000 new boaters that will be on our waterways. That’s a huge opportunity. 

What infrastructure is needed to accommodate growth?

When you look at boats and get over that 50-meter mark, we’re out of slips. With 200-meter boats, we’re way out of slips. With the confusion in Europe in terms of the charter season and multiple countries around the Mediterranean that agree or disagree on a million different things, we saw over the pandemic lots of boats that had never been in this portion of the hemisphere. In South Florida, we’re out of space for boats. 

What have been the successes or challenges you have had with the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (FLIBS)?

Our biggest problem this year was getting people in from Europe, which was a problem because they come here to make their orders in person. FLIBS is the biggest B2B, B2C show in the world, bar none. In 2019, it had a $1.3 billion economic impact to the state, and I feel fairly confident that we’re going to exceed those numbers. Some people say that it’s just a bunch of rich people with boats, so why do we care? That 200-foot boat throws off about $12 million in revenue just sitting in a slip, between salaries, wages, infrastructure, maintenance, and things like that. But more importantly, we need to do a good job as a community to welcome these people, using their brain trust. If Elon Musk, Larry Page, or the likes, are coming here, that’s a huge plus. We need to engage them to come to our communities and use their relationships and political capital to get the things that we need done, whether it’s infrastructure, education at schools or universities, or talent.

How is the Marine Industries Association of South Florida encouraging sustainability and responsible environmental stewardship?

We’ve been looking at floating docks and our seawalls have been improved. Our boats are amazing in terms of how they’re becoming more green all the time. There is no greater steward of the environment than the boater due to the taxes they pay. Here we are in Florida with the third-largest barrier reef in the world and most kids don’t know that. That’s why we helped start the Marine Research Hub a few years ago with local universities and economic development partners. There’s a company called Clean Waterways, Inc. that created a protein bio-skimmer to clean our waterways in Fort Lauderdale. We’re here to provide solutions, not just mitigation. We’re trying to help those entrepreneurs. Lake Okeechobee and our aquifer are both strained and that’s not due to boaters. 

Our association also hosts the largest and longest-running environmental event in Broward County, the Waterway Cleanup. This event attracts more than a thousand volunteers to come out one day to clean our waterways, parks, and community. Last year, in 2020, more than 25 tons of trash was collected by more than 1,200 volunteers. 

What’s your outlook for the marine industry into 2022 and beyond?

It’s very difficult to manage 35% growth for any industry. I would imagine that we’ll have another record year for our industry because being on the water is amazing. There are huge investments being made in our industry, in new infrastructure, in new products, such as electric motors that will start showing up in smaller boats. West Marine is relocating from California and that’s a big deal. Florida is the No. 1 state for boating. I think our future is bright. I think the labor issues will continue for every industry but from our industry perspective, we have a bunch of resilient entrepreneurs that just don’t take no for an answer. 

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