Imagine an industry that contributes to the economy of every state, accounts for a larger percentage of GDP than many traditional industrial sectors, is growing faster than the overall U.S. economy and supports healthy people and healthy communities. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, the outdoor recreation economy does just that.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation accounts for over 2.2% of GDP, contributes to the economy of every state and the District of Columbia, supports 5.2 million American jobs and grew by 3.9% in 2017 – faster than the U.S. economy growth of 2.4%.
This is why we are excited the House Committee on Small Business, chaired by Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., and Ranking Member Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, held a hearing last week on how Congress should address the unique challenges and opportunities facing small businesses in the outdoor recreation industry. It is encouraging that during a time of much disagreement, both parties can come together to discuss how to bolster an economic and job creator like the outdoor industry because of its strength and popularity nationwide.
It also makes sense to support this industry because it is comprised of thousands of small businesses like ours, which make up the backbone of many rural communities – everything from mountain guides and river outfitters, fishing equipment makers, boat and RV component manufacturers, small retailers and many, many more. The issues our businesses are experiencing mirror the challenges of other small businesses across the country, like maintaining a trained workforce and dealing with the ever increasing and unpredictable trade landscape.
Still, some of the hurdles our small businesses face are unique to the outdoor industry, such as public land and water infrastructure and funding – delays in upgrading this infrastructure and conservation of the land and water people recreate on is a bottom-line business issue for us. Imagine if the telecom industry didn’t have fiberoptics or the transportation industry didn’t have roads. If people have fewer places to recreate or the experience is not safe or enjoyable due to inadequate or dilapidated facilities, that hurts our bottom line. Additionally, our public lands and waters face increased threats stemming from climate change – severe wildfires, unpredictable seasons, unreliable snowpack – these factors impact the foundational lands and waters of our industry.
Although businesses across many sectors have a triple bottom line consisting of social, environmental and financial priorities – we don’t know that these values are as intertwined in their daily operations as they are with the outdoor recreation industry’s. We care about the places we play, our customers and employees and the economic vitality of the rural communities we support. Our industry believes outdoor recreation is a sector with amazing potential to create healthy communities, healthy people and healthy economies.
The attention that Velazquez, Chabot and the small business community have given to the outdoor recreation economy and the small businesses that power its strength is not lost on us. We are hopeful that shining a spotlight on our unique challenges and the incredible opportunities that could come from supporting green and blue infrastructure on our public lands and waters will not be lost among all the other issues currently being debated in Washington.
We ask Republicans and Democrats to come together and commit to reinvesting in our shared natural resources. This will not only conserve them for future generations but will deliver the added benefit of bolstering small businesses across the country, and in turn, boosting the economies of countless rural communities. That is a triple bottom line we should all strive for.
Lindsey Davis is co-founder and CEO of Wylder Goods, based in Salt Lake City.
Frank-Paul King is president of Temple Fork Outfitters, based in Dallas.
John Wooden is owner of River Valley Power & Sport, based in Rochester, Minn.