Head of marine trades association is newest Jamestowner
Gov. Lincoln Chafee last week visited Jamestown to pay tribute to Bill Munger, a local businessman whose Taylor Point boatyard is now powered entirely by alternative energy. One of the groups responsible for organizing the festivities is headed by a Jamestowner.
Wendy Mackie is the executive director of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association. She has led the advocacy group since 2011. Mackie moved from Cape Cod to Jamestown full time last month.
Mackie grew up in the Marion- Wallingford area of Connecticut and attended college at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. She studied sociology and health promotion. Ten years ago she met the her future husband and moved to Cape Cod, but work was scarce so she began to commute to Brockton, Mass, to work for a youth development organization called My Turn.
At My Turn, Mackie helped teenagers find jobs, and joined forces with a business in the marine industry that was hiring at the time. The company needed the type of hands-on learners that Mackie could provide.
As the program expanded, Mackie created partnerships with marine-related companies in Rhode Island. She helped the local businesses fill their worker pipeline with young people.
One of the organizations that Mackie had worked with on youth development was the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association. She began to work with the organization on strategic planning and helped create a long-term vision. Eventually she made a proposal to the board offering her services as executive director. After an extended negotiation period, she was hired in August 2011.
When Mackie was growing up, her family owned a succession of boats, including an amphibious all-terrain vehicle. While she was always near the water, Mackie doesn’t describe herself as a hardcore sailor.
“When I was first asked to work on the marine-trades project with young people, exposing them to careers in the industry, I literally had to ask what the marine trades were,” she said.
To better acquaint herself, Mackie took a course at a community college in Brockton and says she is still learning. She credits the 18-member board of directors with helping her along the way.
“The professionals on the board are incredible,” she said. “They let me call them on their cellphones any time with questions, and they’re always driving me to do what the industry needs.”
The marine trades association was created in 1967. Its vision is to position the state as a worldwide leader in the industry. The mission is to grow Rhode Island’s marine businesses through advocacy, education and promotion. There are currently 270 members of the organization – it’s open to any company that has a significant amount of business devoted to recreational boating.
As recently as 2010, there were just 178 members. Mackie says the growth is a sign that the marine industry is bouncing back after being hard hit by the 2008 recession. While the economic downturn forced some companies to downsize or close, the ones that survived have emerged as stronger companies. They are more equipped to handle the changing tides of the economy, she said.
In the 1980s, the trades association was able to successfully campaign for a sales-tax exemption on boats that were purchased and kept in Rhode Island. The exemption was broadened to include service done on local boats.
“We hang our hat on that because it was RIMTA leaders who made that happen,” she said. “They were able to prove the economic impact of the industry as well as the trickle-out effect of the no sales tax on boats.”
Mackie said there are more than 40,000 registered boat owners in Rhode Island, with almost half of them coming from out of state. It indicates people are buying and keeping their boats in the state because of the tax exemption. Out-of-state boats owners not only provide business for marinas, they also dine in local restaurants, stay in area hotels, and visit the tourist attractions, all without having an impact on schools, utilities and other municipal services.
“We’re really receiving a great benefit by those people coming here for those warmer months, being able to enjoy our bay, and support our local businesses,” she said.
The association recently scored a major coup when it acquired the Providence Boat Show. The gala will take place in January at the convention center. The show was acquired from the Newport Exhibition Group, and Mackie credits both organizations for helping to smooth the transition.
“We hope to make the boat show the best Providence Boat Show that Rhode Island has seen in years,” she said. “We’re looking forward to showcasing Rhode Island and all that it has to offer the recreational boater.”
The association also organizes the Rhode Island Boat Show that takes place in four locations, including Jamestown, in May.
Mackie and her husband moved to Jamestown in September because she had been commuting to work for a number of years. She said the long drive each day was daunting. They looked at houses in Portsmouth and Little Compton, but eventually settled on Jamestown.
“Jamestown really drew us in for its quaint village, and the fact that it’s surrounded by water and bridges,” she said. “Moving from Cape Cod, it was the most similar to what we were used to and what we enjoy: a small community where everybody knows everybody and takes care of each other.”