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Wegge: Great Outdoors Helping Build Economy

October 18, 2018 by   Leave a Comment

Tim Wegge

Editor’s Note: The following column by Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) Chairman Tim Wegge, appearing in the October issue of RV Executive Today, reports on a recent study that shows the outdoor industry is a strong economic contributor.

Last month the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the government agency responsible for calculating U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), released the results of its first-ever report on the outdoor recreation economy.

The report, known as the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA), was championed by Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and, thanks to their leadership, was finally made a reality. The report includes all types of outdoor recreation industries – RVs, boats, camping, outdoor apparel, and much more.

The report shows that the outdoor economic sector makes up an astonishing 2.2 percent of the nation’s GDP and accounts for $731 billion in annual gross economic output. The agency ranked the outdoor recreation industry as one of the nation’s largest sectors – ahead of mining, utilities, and chemical products manufacturing industries. The data also show that the outdoor recreation economy is growing at a more rapid pace than the overall U.S. economy.

I know how important the outdoor recreation sector is to our city and the surrounding area. Thanks to a growing interest in RVs, our dealership has more than doubled the number of employees and increased payroll by 61 percent over the past 10 years.

I am sure many dealers have a similar story, and it’s one we all need to share with our elected state and federal repreSentatives. We need to communicate that the booming interest in outdoor recreation is also having a positive impact on our federal and state lands, which benefits the taxpaying public. Adjusting current policies to benefit RV campers and other visitors can have a big impact on investment in new facilities and maintaining existing campgrounds.

In my state of Wisconsin, thanks to changes in state law, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can now identify which parks and campsites are the most popular and adjust daily admission and camping fees according to demand. With the ability to increase rates at popular parks and decrease rates at less popular locations, the DNR is reporting that nightly reservation fee revenue increased more than $1.7 million in 2018. The State Parks Fund has a nearly $10 million surplus in part because of that extra revenue. That money is being reinvested in new projects to enhance the visitor experience, including the construction of 200 additional electrical campsites systemwide to accommodate today’s modern RVs.

We need this type of innovative approach at the federal level to spark public-private investment in the health of our federal lands and waters. This means addressing the $18.6 billion maintenance backlog on federal land and waters, which includes everything from upgrades to campgrounds and boat ramps to modernizing the National Park System so visitors have WiFi access to help them safely navigate trails.

Earlier this year, senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced the Restore Our Parks Act. The bill would create the National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund to reduce the backlog by allocating existing revenues the government receives from on-shore and offshore energy development. The fund would be used to repair park roads, visitor facilities, water systems, crumbling trails, and other park resources. The bill has strong bipartisan support and is backed by the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition of leading outdoor recreation business groups including RVDA and RVIA.

 

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