Inside the local economy of going outside

Photo: @brittnivalen

Photo: @brittnivalen

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It’s officialNorth Carolina residents spend more money on outdoor recreation than they do on financial services and insurance.

Tourist or local, we can all agree that yeah, we like being outside. Asheville has emerged as a top destination for east coast adventure seekers (not to mention the #1 Best Place To Visit in the U.S. 👀). No wonder: Sitting pretty at the base of one the oldest mountain ranges in the world, Asheville boasts direct access to

  • 8 national + state parks
  • 200+ waterfalls
  • 4 rivers (the French Broad, Green, Swannanoa + Catawba)

In Asheville, our love for the outdoors doesn’t just dictate our weekends, it also drives our economy forward. The industry’s rapid + sustained expansion means that there’s a need to define efforts + long-term goals.

Now, we have a new conference devoted to the business of being outside. The inaugural Outdoor Economy Conference happens at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee on October 5 from 9 a.m.–6:30 p.m. Attendees can expect:

  • A keynote speech from Pete Ripmaster, who won the Iditarod 1,000 foot race this year (that is a month-long ultra marathon in the Alaskan wilderness).
  • Panels from leaders in the area’s outdoor industry.
  • Talks on gear prototyping + manufacture.
  • A student pitch competition.
  • Discussions of land stewardship.
  • Networking, outdoor activities + more.

Want to go? See the full schedule, with the full list of presenters, here. Early registration ($99) ends tomorrow (regular price is $159), and a student ticket costs $39. See full registration details + options here.

Keep reading to find out how much Asheville makes from the outdoor economy + which local businesses are driving it.

In N.C., the outdoor economy creates

  • $28 billion in economic impact
  • $8.3 billion in salaries + wages
  • 260,000 jobs
  • $1.3 billion in local + state taxes

That’s according to the Outdoor Industry Association, a membership-driven trade organization centered on sustainability, advocacy + community. Their annual report on the state of the outdoor recreation economy provides insight into how the art of going outside has become an economic powerhouse.

Need perspective? That’s more than computer technology, construction, food + bev, education, and real estate.

Nationally, outdoor recreation creates

  • $887 billion in economic impact
  • 7+ million in direct jobs
  • $65.3 in federal tax revenue
  • $59.2 in state and local tax revenue

Sam Powers, Asheville’s director of community + economic development, says that Asheville is seeing growth in all job sectors.

Considering Asheville’s market growth with its national clout as an adventure hotspot, we can expect strides forward in outdoor rec careers + revenue. In other words, it’s only going up from here. But with great power comes great responsibility... 💪

Meet Outdoor Gear Builders

Local businesses have recognized this, too, and many have joined forces to create a future vision for Asheville + WNC’s outdoor economy. Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC is a network of makers and builders. Its 30+ local gear companies share talent + inspiration with the end goal of providing WNC adventure junkies with the best gear out there, produced responsibly and sustainably in the area. Here are 8 of those local movers + shakers (see the full list here).

Astral | 📍895 Broadway St. | (828) 255-2638 | Life jackets, apparel, and statement-making shoes

Bellyak | 📍 1465 Sand Hill Rd. | (828) 231-7469 | Like a kayak, but you’re on your belly

Diamond Brand Gear | 📍 53 Biltmore Ave. | (828) 771-4761 | Hiking, camping + military gear

Eagles Nest Outfitters | 📍 601 Sweeten Creek Industrial Park Rd | (828) 252-7808 | Parachute hammocks + hammock accessories

Farm to Feet | 📍1546 Carter St., Mt. Airy | (336) 783-6043 | Locally made wool socks for being cozy or getting active

Liquidlogic | 📍 210 Old Airport Rd. | (828) 771-9405 | A variety of performance kayaks

Rockgeist | 📍 2000 Riverside Dr. #33 | (262) 686-7225 | Custom bikepacking gear

Swaygo | 📍 online only | | Minimal, thoughtfully made caving packs + other gear

Say hello to N.C.’s first Outdoor Industry Recruitment Director

In January of this year, David Knight became the state’s first position Outdoor Industry Recruitment Director. Based within the Department of Commerce, Knight will promote the state’s outdoor industry + economy and recruit new businesses to N.C.

And In July, Asheville hosted delegates from around the country to discuss Confluence, a new multi-state initiative to develop a national platform for the outdoor recreation industry.

The hope is that by joining forces, outdoor recreation departments will be able to drive the industry forward towards greater revenue and collaboration in four main categories:

  • economic development
  • conservation and stewardship
  • education + workforce training
  • public health + wellness

Participants from Montana, Oregon, Kansas, Maryland, California, Michigan, Utah, Vermont, Washington + Wyoming joined North Carolina for July’s Confluence event. Delegates from each state were endorsed by that state’s outdoor recreation department director and the governor, and delegations include members of the nonprofit sector, cultural/tribal communities + business partners.

There’s more to come for Asheville’s outdoor recreation industry, but we can count on its continued growth if nothing else.

I’m a huge fan of all of the companies making products locally that help me when I’m out on the trails, on the river, or just looking for something comfy (like wool socks, t-shirts + yoga leggings) to slip into when I’m relaxing around the house. I’m proud to sport brands that were made right here in the mountains by people who love it here as much as I do.

What’s your favorite local brand or company for outdoor recreation? Let us know by commenting here, or tell us over on Facebook or Instagram.

See you outside, Asheville.

– Ali + Stephanie (AVLtoday intern)

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