Recreation is big business
Sunlight Sports, an outdoor shop in Cody, had its best year in 2012. Wild Iris Mountain Sports in Lander is moving to a new, bigger location in March to meet growing demand.
So it wasn’t a surprise to outdoor retailers to read the numbers released in a study last week from the Outdoor Industry Association. The study said outdoor recreation provides 50,000 jobs in Wyoming and $300 million in state and local tax revenue. The industry provides $4.5 billion in consumer spending and $1.4 billion in wages and salaries.
The state-by-state numbers released were an expansion of a study released in June 2012 that reported nationally Americans spend $646 billion each year on outdoor recreation, supporting 6.1 million jobs and generating $80 billion in tax revenue.
The Outdoor Industry Association is a trade association for the outdoor industry. They commissioned research firm Southwick Associates to conduct the study, a release said.
Most people don’t realize the size of the outdoor industry, the release stated. Almost 140 million Americans participate in outdoor activities each year.
Outdoor recreation brings money to Wyoming in so many different ways, said Emily Tilden, assistant manager and hard goods buyer at Wild Iris. There is the actual gear and clothing purchased, but there is also travel and lodging.
“It’s kind of a pain to get here, but that’s why people come here,” she said. “You can have an isolated wilderness experience if that’s what you are looking for.”
Wild Iris’ sales grow 10 percent each year, and the store is moving in early March to a bigger location in Lander. Not only has the store grown, but so has the whole industry. That has led to bigger companies, like Patagonia and Columbia, providing additional support in the form of grants aimed at getting more people involved in outdoor activity. Wild Iris recently used a grant from Columbia to buy water bottles as incentive to get people involved in the Shoshone National Forest Plan.
To the people Tilden knows, recreation is acknowledged as an important economic factor in Fremont County and the state, but that doesn’t always translate over to elected officials and policy makers.
That’s why studies like the Outdoor Industry Association’s are so important, said Wes Allen, owner of Sunlight Sports in Cody.
“We have to remember as we are having conversations about how to develop our state, it’s critical we develop it in a way that retains for people the ability to go out and hike and hunt and wildlife watch, and not just because it makes us feel warm and fuzzy, but because it supports so many Wyomingite jobs,” he said.
People think of outdoor recreation in terms of gear shops and guide services, but it touches so many more industries, like restaurants and hotels, Allen said.
Business at Sunlight Sports has doubled in the last five years, and 2012 was its best year yet, said Allen, who has been with the store for 19 years.
“When the economy gets a little shaky, people stop going to Italy and start going camping,” he said.
Those who discover the outdoors during a recession often continue to recreate outside once the economy stabilizes; furthermore, the industry isn’t susceptible to boom and bust cycles since it isn’t tied to things like the stock market or natural gas prices, he said.
Allen said he hopes the legislature takes note of the numbers from the study and remembers how important it is to market Wyoming’s outdoors. “We have a really solid income supplier and we don’t need to farm or drill anything,” he said. “We just need to tell people about Wyoming and they will come.”
— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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