Alabama’s unsung hero, the outdoor industry is responsible for 135,000 jobs

Forever Wild
Forever Wild
Family hiking DeSoto State Park which has been expanded by the Forever Wild Program. Photo from Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources/Billy Pope

Earlier this year, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) released Outdoor Recreation Economy reports that showed Alabama’s outdoor industries have created 135,000 jobs statewide.

Not only did the report focus on job creation by the industry, it also examined wages, consumer spending, and tax revenue.

Here are the Outdoor Industry Association findings for Alabama.

  • 135,000 direct jobs
  • $14 Billion in consumer spending
  • $3.9 Billion in wages and salaries
  • $857 million in state and local tax revenue
Birmingham, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
Photo via Turkey Creek Nature Preserve’s Facebook page.

Despite these numbers, Mike Goodrich, a board member of Alabama Outdoors and the Freshwater Land Trust, observes that the state’s outdoor industry is an “unsung hero” when it comes to economic development.

“Conservation and biodiversity are wonderful, but the economic development that the industry brings is the real unsung hero of the outdoors. If the politicians would wake up and realize the environment is not a bunch of pie in the sky hippie green rubbish but about jobs, the decisions they make would be far better. Getting people to work, growing the economy and moving Alabama forward is what the outdoor industry can do for the state.”

The OIA reports, which are broken down into state and congressional districts, intend to send a clear message about the outdoor industry and its importance, locally and nationally.

Photo from Ruffner Mountain’s Facebook page.

“One-hundred and forty-five million Americans, from all walks of life, participate in outdoor recreation every year, and 7.6 million Americans have good-paying jobs that rely on the outdoor recreation economy. These reports show that all districts have something to gain when our federal and local policymakers support our public lands and waters and invest in outdoor recreation,” stated  Amy Roberts, OIA executive director in a April 2018 news release.

Recently, despite overwhelming public support, conservation programs in Alabama have been threatened. For example, on a statewide level, Alabama’s Forever Wild program, one of state’s most successful conservation programs in its history, has faced numerous proposals in the Alabama Legislature since 2013, that would severely weaken the program.  All this, even though the 20 year renewal of the constitutional amendment  garnered 76% of the popular vote in 2012 and a recent study demonstrated that for every $1 spent on Forever Wild, $5 is generated in economic activity.

Birmingham Alabama
Photo via alapark.com

In addition to Forever Wild, only a few years ago, Alabama State Parks faced severe funding issues, that were fortunately resolved by referendum in 2016.

Goodrich adds, “Our outdoor assets are incredibly under-utilized. We have a beautiful state, and there is no reason why Alabama cannot be an outdoor destination like Arizona, Montana, or Maine. We as a state can create more jobs – not less- if we invest in parks, trails and the outdoors.”

Unbeknownst, to most Americans, the state of Alabama ranks first nationally in the number of freshwater fish, turtles. mussels and crayfish.  The state also ranks high in tree, cave and  geological diversity.

Birmingham Alabama
Cahaba River Society’s Gordon Black identifying darters and shiners to the Green Resource Center for Alabama EMERGE Leadership Class. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

“We have a great outdoor story to tell, to showcase and to promote. The outdoor industry is a major force, just not one people think about. Hopefully that will change. This report is just further evidence of what people in the industry know; hopefully people in charge will take note,” Goodrich concludes.

To learn more about the Outdoor Industry Association and their Outdoor Recreation Reports, visit – https://outdoorindustry.org/

 

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.