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Why We Can’t Afford Arbitrary Budget Cuts for the Public Lands and Waters that Fuel Our Economy

The CEO of a South Carolina sport equipment manufacturer describes how investments in public lands impact her business, and how the arbitrary budget cuts imposed by Congress will slow our economy and hurt families across the country.

As CEO of Confluence Watersports, one of the largest manufacturers of kayaks, canoes, and watersports accessories, I naturally value the accessibility of our country’s public lands and waterways – not just for the quality of life they provide or our environmental legacy, but also for the 425 people we employ in South Carolina, about 75 percent of whom work in manufacturing.

Over the last 5 years, our business has experienced consistent growth, enabling us to expand our workforce and invest in our future.  We recently moved into a new 300,000-square-foot facility, and have committed to investing up to $12 million in capital expenditures over the next few years.  But to thrive as a U. S. manufacturer in this industry, our customers need access to quality on-water experiences.  My business, employees, and community depend on it.  In fact, the entire U.S. economy depends on quality outdoor recreation experiences.

Outdoor recreation is a huge driver of the U.S. economy.  According to a report published by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) last year, the outdoor recreation industry supports 6.1 million jobs across the United States, and generates $646 billion in direct spending and $79 billion in tax revenue annually.  The OIA recently released figures tallying the state-by-state impacts of outdoor recreation, including direct spending, jobs, salaries, and tax revenue.

This week, I joined several outdoor industry colleagues at the White House for a Roundtable on the Outdoor Recreation Economy with officials from the Council on Environmental Quality, National Economic Council, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Interior.  Our focus was the economic benefit of getting more Americans outside.  It was a great dialogue among diverse agencies that realize the importance of outdoor recreation for our economy and for our citizens.

The Administration has demonstrated that it understands the significant connection between outdoor recreation, a healthy economy, and a healthy country.  President Obama’s signature recreation and conservation initiative, America’s Great Outdoors (AGO), has led to unprecedented interagency collaboration.  Thanks to AGO, agencies are effectively working with one another and with local communities to reconnect Americans with the outdoors by creating, expanding, and enhancing access to our country’s amazing network of public lands and waters.

Our country’s remote wilderness, national and local parks, wild rivers and scenic waterways, hiking trails, and bicycle paths span the country and provide places where Americans can seek nature and recreate outdoors.  These places will continue to create jobs and drive the economy if our elected leaders choose to manage and invest in this national outdoor recreation system.

The national outdoor recreation system intersects with several agencies that will face automatic budget cuts if Friday’s sequester is not averted.  It is important that lawmakers do all they can to ensure that the agencies that manage our recreational assets are not subject to these arbitrary cuts.

We know the folks we met with this week understand the economic benefits of the national outdoor recreation system.  We look forward to helping them support the recreation economy, and we hope that Congress begins to recognize fully what it means for this country to get outside.  After all, I think most Americans can agree that it is important to promote healthy, happy citizens and a legacy of public lands that future generations have the right to enjoy.  And, I think that all Americans agree that preserving and creating U.S. jobs is a national priority.

Sue Rechner is the CEO of Confluence Watersports