Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Overlooked giant should raise a fuss

A new study just confirmed what businesses in the Sun Valley area have known for years: The economy generated by outdoor recreation is an "overlooked giant."

Outdoor recreation accounts for revenues of $256 billion and 2.3 million jobs in the West, according to the Western Governors Association and the Outdoor Industry Association. The spending was nearly 40 percent of the national total.

Nationwide, consumers spent $646 billion on outdoor recreation in 2011. That eclipsed the amount spent on pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles, gas and utilities. In the West, outdoor recreation generated $15.38 billion in state and local tax receipts and $15.41 billion in federal tax receipts. With numbers like these, you'd think the industry would get more respect from lawmakers, but it doesn't.

With the release of the study, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire called on Western state and civic leaders to recognize the critical role outdoor recreation plays in the economy of the West.

The study was a good first step, but Western states including Idaho need to help tease out individual state data and keep it up to date. Moreover, businesses related to outdoor recreation need to develop a strong political lobby in Idaho and on the national level to encourage public investment in protecting outdoor resources and infrastructure, including trails, parks, camp areas, wildlife areas, boat docks, access points and informational signs.

Businesses involved in outdoor recreation and tourism in the West more often than not operate quietly and employ people who simply go to work each day with minimal fuss.

It's time for the industry to raise more of a fuss, demand the attention of lawmakers and get its fair share of public investment in order to solidify and grow its clean and healthy contributions to American life and the economy of the West.

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