Wild Spaces and Their Impact on our Economy
The following was a speech written for the Wildlands Social Club event on 5/12/18 put on by the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust at 21C Hotel and Museum in Downtown Cincinnati, OH. Information was provided by both the City of Milford, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Outdoor Industry Association :
My name is Bryan Wolf, and in 2010 myself and two friends decided to max out thirteen different credit cards and become entrepreneurs. Despite this non-traditional business venture the University of Cincinnati still awarded me my Business Degree a year later in 2011. My business, Roads Rivers and Trails is now over seven years old and thriving.
The passion that fueled this insanity was a six-month hike on the Appalachian Trail traversing 2,175 miles from Maine to Georgia through winter. Because I make real good decisions, this was my very first backpacking trip. Our local stop for outdoor equipment at the time was Nature Outfitters. After they closed, we decided to build our foundation in their very shoes, carrying on their tradition of twenty years of having a community-based outdoors store in beautiful and unique historic downtown Milford, Ohio.
Roads Rivers and Trails functions to not only equip but to also inspire and help you achieve your next great adventure. Out motto is Dream, Plan, Live.
Since that trip on the AT I’ve enjoyed the remote backcountry of Alaska, including a standoff with a circle of 4 Grizzlies. I’ve traveled to Iceland to trek across their growing volcanic landscape, to the Canadian Rockies and their vast snowfields, and up and down the east coast till my thirst for adventure is again temporarily satisfied. Every trip comes at it’s cost, as my wife reminds me that trench foot shouldn’t be a thing that WE have to deal with.
I’ve also always been passionate about local businesses. I enjoy personal interaction and real-life experiences. So much so that I’ve ranted half a dozen of times on social media about self-checkout lanes at the grocery store. When we renovated our space to open RRT I remember sitting outside the front doors and meeting the locals during a fall street festival. I was astonished at the number of “Thank You”s we received for reopening the doors. You see in 2010, downtown Milford was not bustling like it once had and it seemed that every third or fourth store front was vacant. They looked to us for its resurgence.
Luckily, we wanted the same thing. We whole heartedly believe that you are only as strong as the community around you. As we’ve met business and conservation leaders over the years we have been constantly inspired to do more. RRT ownership has collectively been board members with three different outdoor and community organization, been on multiple committees, chaired several community events, and worked in partnership with dozens of non-profit organizations in both fundraising and organizational goals. Get more details here.
As the town around us grew, so has the city’s acknowledgment of our natural resources. You see Milford is situated on a national scenic river but also the junction of 22,000 miles of national scenic trail including the Buckeye Trail which is the longest single state trail in the country. So, we worked with the city to develop added river access, additional trail signage, a geocache trail, and currently the potential of a trail festival. We also supported the reroute of the Buckeye Trail through Main Street of downtown Milford and in so becoming the first official trail town.
As we look back at the impact that these things have had we can see that Milford is bustling, with nearly every store front filled. We look at a vibrant river that is seeing regular use. We can see the influx of business from the multi-use trail head on a sunny day. We can look at our own business and the steady increase in our sales year after year. The community is stronger, more active, and has become more of a destination because of our collective efforts. I think on a city level this has already been largely recognized. Our business has been actively recruited by three different cities in the tri-state because they recognize the economic impact of creating an outdoor based destination.
We do all of this because we understand that we must actively fight for and support our wild spaces. We must create opportunity for outdoor recreation and that means that we need accessible parks, clean rivers, and marked trails. As a business that survives on the sales of outdoor experiences we must make sure these places are safe and approachable and we are happy to take on that responsibility. These resources are not only needed as an escape for mental and physical health, but they are also greatly sought after. Enthusiasts will travel a great distance for famed rapids, or rock walls. With their obsession comes a willingness to spend.
Retail and service-based businesses are thriving now in Milford and in so creating jobs for the local population. We have become a destination for both travel and active living. Spending for outdoor recreation includes more than the necessary equipment but also the park revenues, the travel expenses, the lodging and meals during the trip, and all the touristy goods that it takes to build a shrine to the experience. Economic drivers in the greater Milford area include 35 million dollars in travel, recreation, and apparel. This from a city paid research study in 2016.
Pulling back the microscope, the Outdoor Industry Association reported spending and economic impact numbers per state and per congressional district late this April. The report includes data for the first and second districts of Ohio that adds up to 2.7 billion dollars of spending in outdoor recreation. Our state of Ohio has 215,000 jobs due to this industry and in doing so 7 billion dollars in wages. Outdoor recreation brings in over 4 billion dollars of out of state spending to Ohio. All of this from grown men and women who enjoy playing in the dirt.
What do these numbers look like outside of our small town? What do wild spaces provide for a town like Cody Wyoming, Bend Oregon, Salt Lake City Utah, or Bozeman Montana? What about for the entire country?
Thanks to H.R. 4665 passed in late 2016, the United States will now count the outdoor recreation industry as part of the national Gross Domestic Product, and there-in valued by economists. This means that this industry has otherwise not been represented nor accounted for in policy decisions with the same weight as other industries. Now I’m going to tell you why it is so important that it is. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation makes up 373 billion dollars of annual contribution to the GDP. The outdoor industry would now make up 2% of our economy in terms of GDP and it is growing faster than the national average. In a report from the OIA, total economic contribution in spending is much greater and amounts to 887 billion dollars and in doing so approximately 7.6 million jobs. That adds up to 65 billion in federal revenue and almost 60 billion in projected state revenue!
These numbers are big, but they are perhaps bigger than you think. For some perspective, this consumer spending is higher than consumer spending of gasoline or fuel at $304 billion, then automobiles at $465 billion or pharmaceuticals at $466 billion. That is no drop in the bucket. When an industry has that large of an economic impact it warrants consideration in policy and in deciding our ultimate goals.
I have an opportunity to see grassroots movements making a real impact toward both physical and mental health, toward environmental conservation, and to real economic growth. Wild spaces do so much for us and economic impact is not the least of them. Now we are joining this national conversation. We have active conversations with over 60 other independent outdoor retailers across the nation and with manufacturers. These people continue to both educate us and inspire us for more active approaches. We have taken public stances on environmental issues such as the scaling back of our public lands. We understand that we can not nationally back track and independently succeed. Because on a local and on a national level we are only as strong as the community around us.