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Statement of the Hon. Nydia M. Velázquez on Force of Nature: The Power of Small Businesses in America’s Recreational Infrastructure

Washington, October 30, 2019

With more than 146 million Americans across the nation—nearly half of the U.S. population—participating each year in activities such as hiking, fishing, skiing, rafting, and biking, outdoor recreation is among the largest and fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy.

Recent data by the Bureau of Economic Analysis gives us a snapshot of the growing force that is the outdoor recreation economy. In 2017, the industry accounted for 2.2 percent of GDP—in actual dollars that’s over $427 billion of economic output. To put that in context, that is a greater contribution than that of mining, utilities, and oil and gas production.

In states like Montana and Maine, outdoor recreation is a significant portion of the overall state’s GDP. And in my home state of New York, there are nearly 300,000 people employed in outdoor recreation jobs. Even more encouraging is that the industry is outpacing the rest of the economy. In 2017, while the U.S. GDP grew at 2.4 percent, the outdoor recreation economy grew by 3.9 percent.

Outdoor recreation is also extremely varied reflecting the natural and cultural diversity of our entire country. The largest components of the recreation industry—manufacturing, finance, retail, hospitality, and transportation – are all dominated by small businesses.

It is also a driver of innovation and entrepreneurship. There has been an explosion in outdoor technical equipment and clothing, high tech signaling devices, and protective gear. And, improvements and advanced technologies continue to drive innovation in transportation vehicles such as snow mobiles, motorcycles, and other off-road vehicles.

Because outdoor recreation directly creates so many local businesses and jobs, we in Congress play an important role supporting small firms in the industry. Healthy public lands and clean air and water are the basic infrastructure of outdoor recreation, and without them the industry cannot survive and thrive.

That is why it is critical there is adequate and sustainable funding to maintain and modernize our national parks, roads, and bridges.

We also need to cut the red tape many entrepreneurs face in this industry. For instance, there needs to be coordination and a streamlining of the permitting process between federal land management agencies so that outfitters and guides that operate on public lands can get more Americans outdoors.

We’ve also heard that this is another industry that is being impacted by the Administration’s trade war. As a result of tariffs on key recreational products, manufacturers of boats and RVs are facing higher input costs. Trading partners of the U.S. have levied retaliatory tariffs on American made recreational products resulting in lost export sales.

We know that when this happens small firms and consumers alike are paying the price through higher costs for outdoor activities and equipment, and more Americans are putting off that hiking or rafting adventure. As a result, we’re seeing reduced economic growth in the communities that need it most.

I’m excited to hear from our witnesses today on the success they have had building their businesses and about the opportunities you see on the horizon. But, I also want to hear about the challenges you are facing to grow and expand.

That is because the businesses you run, and the high-paying jobs you create only tell part of the story. Outdoor recreation has been shown to cut health care costs by reducing stress and obesity rates, along with bringing families and friends closer together, while also protecting the environment.

As we look to build sustainable businesses on Main Street across the country, outdoor recreation offers a pathway to prosperity for millions of entrepreneurs and small firms across the country.  I again want to thank our witnesses for being hear today.


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