A suspect national economy had little tangible effect on the Wisconsin Association of Campground  Owners’ (WACO) Spring Convention March 18-22 at the Holiday Inn Convention Center in Stevens Point,  Wis. 

 The event drew 650 campground owners, staff members and trades people. The campground count was  127, up from 106 last year. And the trade show featured 178 vendor booths, up from 150 a year ago.  Furniture was removed from the convention center lobby to make room for the additional booths, WACO staffer Ruth Jaszewski reported to RVBusiness. The meeting is routinely the largest gathering of campground owners from a single state in the year.

She called it “a very positive convention,” both in terms of attendance and campground owner morale. “They (campground owners) feel the camping industry will not be that affected (this year). People won’t travel as far but will still come to the campgrounds that are closer. And reservations are up from last year,” Jaszewski said. 

Among the guest speakers were Mark Anderson, chairman of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), and Beverly Gruber, executive director of the Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association (PCOA). 

Kathi Kilgore, WACO’s lobbyist, outlined key legislative matters affecting the campground industry this year. The two major issues facing campgrounds deal with the mandatory start of public school and with raising the minimum wage, she told RVB

WACO helped draft the existing Uniform School Start Date legislation, passed in 2001, which mandated public schools could not start before Sept. 1. 

“This year, we are seeing an effort to repeal that law,” Kilgore said. “That is a big threat I am very nervous about. We are seeing organizations that were dormant or neutral before becoming more active. 

“The other challenge is there is a majority of legislators who have not dealt with this issue before. We will now have to educate the new legislators and re-educate the folks that were here before,” she said. 

The start date will be a bargaining issue, she said. “As a tourism industry, we would like to see Labor Day but a compromise (in the present law) was Sept. 1,” she said. Some schools formerly started as early as Aug. 18. 

Such an early start date last year would have been harmful to the state’s campgrounds last summer, she noted, as the weather the last two weeks of August was “fabulous” and owners made up for a lot of business they lost earlier in the season due to the extensive flooding across the state. 

The minimum wage hike would be to $7.60 an hour and indexed to the Consumer Price Index, she explained. She fears the legislation will “open the door to other HR issues like mandatory sick leave and to bigger precedents,” she said. 

She encouraged WACO members to lobby their state legislators on the two issues. 

WACO will hold its 2010 convention the third week in March and most likely return to the Stevens Point site, Jaszewski said.