Susan Zellers is the executive director for the Marine Trades Association of Maryland (MTAM) and was recently appointed to the Tidal and Coastal Recreational Fisheries Committee in Maryland. Zellers also serves on Annapolis’s City Dock Action Committee, Small Business Recovery Task Force for Covid, and the Maritime Task Force for the City.

susan zellers
Susan Zellers is the executive director for the Marine Trades Association of Maryland (MTAM).

How long have you been involved with MTAM?

I have been with MTAM for 19 years. Hard to believe. I work for a really great group of people and represent a great industry. I have been quoted as saying, “If I won the lottery, I would do this job for free.” When I first started with MTAM, organizations such as this were beginning to experience a downturn in memberships. People were starting to question what they were getting for their membership. With that in mind, I ramped up our advocacy work and began to point at the importance of membership for a unified voice with our elected officials and government agencies. We also pushed for a more diverse board so that we could represent a wider variety of the industry. Diversity in the industry sectors as well as the geographic area of the industry have given us a much stronger organization.   

Could you tell us a little about MTAM’s On-the-Job Training (OJT) Program.

In 2014, I applied for and received a planning grant through EARN Maryland (Employment Advancement Right Now). The first grant was used to research and develop the best fit for our program in Maryland. Looking at Rhode Island, Florida, and Maine, we developed a program based on input from employers plus a deep understanding of the industry here in Maryland. The planning grant led to our first grant of $180,000 which allowed us to form the Marine Trades Industry Partnership for Workforce Development (MTIP) to hire a coordinator, and develop the first three training modules for on-the-job, incumbent, and train-the-trainer. We are now on our fourth grant and have experienced tremendous participation and success.  

We have added a module to develop an apprenticeship, the Marine Service Technician Apprenticeship, here in Maryland and a module to introduce college juniors and seniors from Loyola College to boat sales through internships at our boat shows. Our workforce development coordinator, Lia Jaros, is exceptional and has been a big part of the success of the program.

What legislative issues that affect boaters has MTAM worked on?

Probably the biggest piece of legislation we have passed during my tenure was the cap on the excise tax. Based on what other states around the country were moving towards, we were the second state to adopt a cap. Capping boat tax keeps the repair and maintenance work here in Maryland. 

Every year, we follow about 50 bills for their impact on our industry: Bills that might tax services, bills that have to do with funding workforce development, bills that have to do with shorelines and stormwater—anything that might concern our members.

How did Covid affect boating and MTAM in 2020?

It had been a great year for boat sales yet a difficult year for MTAM. We rely on our events and generous support from the Annapolis Boat Shows for a large portion of our revenues; which obviously weren’t been able to happen. Our workforce development program has continued to place OJT students and our incumbent training has still been active. We have adapted our sales training module to an online piece that will launch this month. We were also able to launch the first ‘Welcome to Boating’ training, a collaboration between the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and MTAM to teach new boaters how to launch and retrieve their boats at a ramp. So, we are keeping busy, but like everyone, are anxious to put the pandemic behind us.

What does MTAM have on the horizon in 2021?

In January we began to sell advertising to our printed Guide to Marine Services in Maryland, typically printed for the Fall Boat Shows, but we had to postpone it in 2020. We will also be running our shrinkwrap recycling program again with our marinas and boatyards. Even during the crazy spring of 2020, we were able to recycle 30,000 pounds of wrap. We hope this continues to grow as we still only capture a small amount of what is out there.  

Tell us a little about your background.

Born and raised in Ohio, Go Buckeyes! The only boating I did was small lake waterskiing and windsurfing. I moved here in the early 80s and joined the boating culture here. I don’t get out on the water nearly enough… but then who does?