The Marine Advisory Services program works directly with the multi-faceted marine trades sector and the local governments that support strong coastal communities. Several initiatives shore up the economic strength of the towns and counties along Virginia’s coastline. For example, Virginia localities and marine industries are attempting to negotiate a lesser and more uniform tax burden on their boating clientele. Such a move helps to stabilize local businesses while ensuring steady growth in the future large boat market. In certain locations, the result can help local governments attract new, mega yachts that bring acknowledged economic impacts upon local businesses, while cutting impediments to competition.
Americans continue to flock to the coast, changing the character of many shoreline activities today. While seafood harvesting and processing remain strong in Virginia, commerce in the coastal zone often takes the form of water-based recreation – as more and more Americans take up boating and paddling, surf-fishing and birdwatching. Through its ripple effects, the recreational fishing industry alone accounts for several billion dollars of revenue to the state’s economy, according to VIMS economists. Recognizing this broad base of marine users, Sea Grant continues a long tradition of working along the waterfront – with recreational anglers and with towns and cities hosting maritime festivals.
Virginia Sea Grant works with coastal localities to explore opportunities to strengthen the business climate for marine enterprises. Such enterprises serve approximately 230,000 boaters who enjoy the tidal waters of Virginia. Marine trades economist Tom Murray has worked to build upon the regional strengths of the marine industry in Virginia and identify opportunities for collaboration between trade sectors and with government bodies. Emphasis is placed on grants and public finance regimes that provide for incentives to industrial development. Specifically, businesses with the potential to add value to the existing labor pool while taking advantage of existing facilities are targeted.
Key to the development of maritime trades in the 21st century is state-of-the-art vocational education. A new program at Rappahannock Community College brings to fruition the desire by many industry leaders to educate and train quality craftsmen in marine trades.
Initiatives to equitize the personal property taxes paid by recreational boaters, provide matching funds for expanded infrastructure among marinas, and strengthen the local tax base are among the projects funded by Virginia Sea Grant over the past five years. Virtually every face of the marine trades world has been touched by Sea Grant involvement: the charter boat captain, the diesel mechanic, the commercial waterman, the B&B operator.