Although most boaters never knew him, Jeff Napier worked as president of the industry association (NMMA) for nearly two decades to lift the U.S. boating industry up from a cottage-industry mentality to one on a footing with a profile far greater than its relatively modest annual sales would indicate. Perhaps he is best known for his fight against the 10% Luxury Tax imposed by Congress for partisan political reasons. The tax put 30,000 boating personnel out of work and effectively shut down some great names in boat building such as Trojan, Pacemaker, Uniflite, Tollycraft, Jersey Yachts and many more.
As president of the NMMA from 1980 to 1998, Napier was credited with tackling several issues facing the boating industry on Capitol Hill, including the luxury tax — a 10 percent excise tax implemented on sales of boats, among other items, implemented in 1990.
Napier helped lead a three-year battle that eventually led to the Congressional repeal of the tax, according to a 1993 article in The New York Times. In the story, Napier highlighted the devastation the tax had inflicted on the industry.
“It's hard to be elated when our own government activity created a loss of 30,000 American jobs and destroyed dozens of companies in the process," Napier said in the article. "And the revenues weren't there. For every dollar that was collected on the luxury tax, we estimated the federal government paid out $5 for each dollar collected in unemployment benefits and other costs caused by layoffs. Then, too, a contracting economy brought sales that were subject to the tax to a virtual standstill, causing unemployment, plant closings and foreclosures in the marine industry.”
Napier said in a press release in 1994 that boat manufacturing jobs were up 27 percent since the repeal of the tax — which is still widely recalled and referenced in the industry, including by MarineMax CEO Bill McGill in a call this morning to discuss quarterly financial results.
The tax triggered a 70 percent drop in sales on boats costing more than $100,000, the NMMA said at the time. Napier helped the NMMA make a case to Congress that repealing the tax would put production-line employees back to work.
"Repealing the tax did what we said it would do,” Napier said in the statement. “People are getting their jobs back."
By the early 1990s, the association had close to 1,800 members (up from 450), a budget of more than $30 million (up from $2 million), a Washington office, state lobbyists, and more than 20 boat shows that it produced annually.
“A friend, colleague and mentor, Jeff was a visionary who helped push the boating industry forward in so many ways,” said NMMA executive vice president Ben Wold. “Jeff understood the need for the boating industry to own and control major boat shows to give the industry a voice in how they were produced, and also saw how shows’ revenue could support other industry initiatives and ultimately grow boating. He was always so supportive of NMMA members and its staff, and a mentor to so many of us who have enjoyed long careers in the boating industry.”
A strong industry advocate, Napier argued two boating industry cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and created the original boating industry political action committee, increasing recognition of the industry as a player in Washington.
Napier helped establish the direction for the Uniting the Industry for Growth campaign, which provided dealers an open forum to meet with manufacturers to discuss sensitive issues, including warranties and dealer agreements.
He also convinced the NMMA board to fund extensive research programs, which exposed challenges the industry was facing and identified the steps that needed to be taken to turn it around, and planting the seeds for Grow Boating.
Napier won the NMMA Hall of Fame Award in 2003.
“Jeff’s leadership played a key role in the growth and success of NMMA, devoting his entire career to bettering the boating industry and community,” said NMMA president Thom Dammrich, who took over the role of president in 1999 after a brief interim term served between Dammrich and Napier by industry leader Sylvan “Ham” Hamberger.
After Napier departed from NMMA, he moved to Arizona where he pursued a career in real-estate development. He and his wife, Liliana, also owned a family farm in Italy, tending vineyards and olive groves, producing wines and olive oil.
He passed away after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.