July 12, 2022
SCBFA Chairman Chris Butler
By: Matthew Goins
In the famous 1984 film Ghost Busters, the notable theme song has the catchy line “Who you gonna call?” For automotive dealers in South Carolina, the force would be the South Carolina Automobile Dealers Association, often referred to as SCADA. As a longtime car dealer in Beaufort, South Carolina, Chris Butler relied heavily on the assistance and advocacy of the industry-based trade association. However, in 2001, when he transitioned into the boating industry, Butler discovered that though it was a big industry, its voice was small.
“We needed everyone in the industry to understand that we need a collective voice to get things done,” said Butler.
The channel for change came in the spring of 2020 when Butler received a call from a former College Fishing National Champion, College Fishing All-American, and communications professional, Gettys Brannon.
With first-hand experience in the industry and awareness of its potential, Butler joined Brannon in leading the efforts to launch SCBFA. As a result of his accolades and success in the boating industry, Butler was easily elected chairman by his peers.
“Leadership is one of those things where you want to see everyone row the boat in the same direction,” said Butler. “The other part is recognizing and understanding what a pitfall for the organization could be, what hill is worth climbing, and what issues we are facing.”
Amid SCBFA’s launch, the world was shut down due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. As a public health precaution, the state shut down lakes and marinas, impacting many of Butler’s customers.
“The state shutdown boat landings and access points for weeks with no dealer being notified or asked,” said Butler. “Only the wealthy people who lived on lakes or marinas could put their boat in the water, causing a disadvantage for the average, everyday boat owner.”
The inequality and inconsistency of restrictions fueled Butler to call on fellow partners in the industry to join the efforts. “That was the driving call that we used to talk to manufacturers and dealers during this mass chaos,” said Butler. “If the South Carolina Boating and Fishing Alliance had been established, we could have provided a voice of industry insight for state leaders during that time — though the state did the best with what information they had.” Butler credited Governor Henry McMaster with boating restrictions being one of the first lifted during the coronavirus response.
Though the industry thrives on the water, the connections at the statehouse and across the industry allowed the Alliance to garner support from the global leaders in boating and fishing tackle manufacturing who call South Carolina home. The mission was “to be a positive influence for the protection and growth of South Carolina’s boating and fishing industry through advocacy, education and stewardship.”
Butler wanted to see the Alliance engage in a “monster fight” in hopes of a “monster win.” “We were either going to stop a bill that would damage the industry or advance a bill that would impact the industry for the better,” said Butler.
The victory came when the “30 by 30” legislation died in committee. Though the legislation was part of a national movement by environmental groups to protect 30% of all U.S. water and land by 2030, the bill posed a threat to the state’s outdoor recreation industry by restricting public access to bodies of water and land around the state.
Other notable legislative accomplishments were developing electronic registration and allowing electronic licensing with SCDNR, reforming flounder regulations, decreasing manufacturer property tax, capping watercraft motor taxes, advocating for recreational fishing representation on the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, and starting the conversation for historic conservation funding, with the Conservation Enhancement Act.
In Butler’s view, the legislative efforts have been an eye-opener for many state leaders. “The effect we have had with legislators in such a short amount of time is remarkable. We probably came on quicker than any group like ours due to the strong voice we have,” said Butler. “People are starting to understand how big this industry truly is.”
Despite the many legislative accomplishments that continue to advance the industry, there is still much to be done. Butler believes the two greatest issues are outboard motor titles and taxes, property tax reform, and expanding access.
South Carolina is one of six states that continues to issue titles on outboard motors. Despite some seeing it as an income generator, it only provides .05% of overall revenue in counties like Beaufort. An auditor in Beaufort County told Butler, “It’s .05% of revenue but 80% of my problems.”
With a dealership located in Charleston, Butler is aware of the lack of access points compared to other areas along the coast. Expanded access is an issue he hopes the Alliance can be a leader for in the future. “Charleston is in desperate need of new landings. This is an area where state, city, and county governments must work together,” said Butler.
In addition to legislative efforts, Butler is proud of the strides the Alliance has taken to partner with technical colleges around the state to educate the industry’s future workforce.
“Boating and fishing are such important industries to South Carolina that we don’t want it to be limited by the pool of people in the labor force,” said Butler. “We want to help manufacturers get people trained and to work because there are good-paying jobs and longevity in this industry.”
Though SCBFA has received heavy support from dealers and manufacturers around the state, Butler wants the organization to enhance its grassroots efforts to connect with everyday anglers and boat owners. Currently, one in 10 South Carolinians own a boat, and there are more than 725,000 fishing licenses distributed every year. “We have brought in the manufacturers and the dealers. Our next step is to travel the state and talk to your everyday angler and boat owner,” said Butler.
Future generations are what drive Butler to advocate for the industry. He hopes South Carolinians realize “we live in a great state with a great culture and great people. SCBFA wants to continue that for generations to come.”
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