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Outdoor recreation is driving the U.S. economy

By Bill Yeargin

As we move into the autumn months, many are looking back fondly on time spent this summer enjoying America’s great outdoors. Whether a family vacation to one of America’s majestic national parks or an afternoon enjoyed with friends on one of our country’s countless waterways, the memories made will be everlasting. And, in the process, many played an important role in helping drive one of the strongest economic engines in our region—the outdoor recreation economy.

Exploring the great outdoors has long been an American pastime, but it was only this year that we gained a formal understanding of just how important the outdoor recreation industry is to the national economy. In February, the Bureau of Economic Analysis— the government agency responsible for calculating U.S. gross domestic product — recognized the outdoor recreation industry in its calculations for the first time. The report, known as the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, was championed by Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, and thanks to their leadership, was finally made a reality.

Data from the report show that this sector makes up an astonishing 2.2 percent of the nation’s GDP and accounts for $734 billion in annual gross economic output. BEA ranked the outdoor recreation industry as one the nation’s largest sectors — ahead of the mining, utilities and chemical products manufacturing industries. The data also show that the outdoor recreation economy is growing at a rapid pace, exceeding even the booming U.S. economy overall.

As the president and CEO of Correct Craft, I can speak firsthand to how important the outdoor recreation sector is to our economy. Thanks in part to this sector’s booming growth, our company’s workforce has over doubled the past few years. Today, our team of nearly 1,300 workers – including over 700 in Florida – builds boats and engines in six factories across the United States. Job seekers are turning to our company not only for good pay but because our team is passionate about building products that allow our customers to enjoy the outdoors and connect with one another. BEA’s new data gives us good reason to think this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.

This good fortune also allows us to give back to our communities. Correct Craft and our team of employees and vendors across the country are using the resources we receive from selling boats to aid our philanthropic efforts, which include everything from lake clean-ups, to building homes with Habitat for Humanity and just this summer serving at a Children’s Center in Jamaica

Protecting the growth of this sector is critical to maintaining a healthy U.S. economy. As a leader in outdoor recreation, we work closely with the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, the nation’s leading coalition of outdoor recreation trade associations. ORR’s mission is to help grow the outdoor recreation economy by expanding access to America’s public lands and waters and improving the visitor experience so all Americans have an opportunity to enjoy our national treasures.

Key to achieving these outcomes is a strong public-private investment, which first and foremost protects and preserves the intimate experience of our great outdoors. This includes addressing the $18.6 billion public lands and waters maintenance backlog— everything from upgrades to campgrounds and boat ramps to modernizing national parks so that visitors have WiFi access to help them safely navigate trails. Joining government and the private sector to meet the needs of our public lands and waterways is a commonsense, efficient approach that will ensure our public spaces are brought into a state of good repair and meet the demands of the 21st century visitor.

The outdoor recreation economy is a force in our community, and we need to do everything we can to keep it going strong. Working together with government to do what’s right for our outdoor spaces and the Americans who seek to enjoy them will help ensure a strong outdoor recreation economy for generations.

Bill Yeargin is the president and CEO of Correct Craft.

Editor's note: Bill Yeargin originally wrote this blog as on op-ed, published in the Orlando Sentinel on Sep. 26, 2018.

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