Outdoor recreation industry teams with UNH, state to rev up ‘economic engine’

Newly created policy fellowship seen as key support for growing sector
Cam Nemo Pappas
Cam Brensinger, left, CEO and founder of NEMO, gives U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas and others a tour of his company’s Dover facility as part of a recent New Hampshire Outdoor Recreation Economy Roundtable. (Courtesy photo)

Outdoor recreation in New Hampshire accounts for a $2.8 billion impact on the local economy and about 28,000 jobs.

That’s enough of a punch, according to advocates, to warrant funding for a University of New Hampshire graduate student fellow who will provide policy project support to elevate the outdoor economy in the Granite State.

A New Hampshire Outdoor Recreation Economy Roundtable recently held in Dover at the headquarters of NEMO, an independent designer and maker of outdoor gear and accessories, attracted key players in the industry, as well as the attendance – and support – of U.S. Rep. Christopher Pappas, Democrat from the state’s’ 1stCongressional District.

“The outdoor industry is a vital economic engine in this country,” said Cam Brensinger, CEO and founder of NEMO. “We wanted to host this roundtable to highlight the importance of outdoor recreation in New Hampshire.”

Nationally, according to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data cited at the NEMO conference, the outdoor recreation economy generates $862 billion annually, accounts for 1.9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and has created 4.5 million American jobs. In 2021, outdoor recreation had a higher economic output than oil and gas, mining, or agriculture. In New Hampshire, outdoor recreation drives $2.7 billion in annual GDP, and supports 28,000 jobs.

Further, according to Granite Outdoor Alliance, New Hampshire’s outdoor economy is 3.2 percent of the state’s economy, ninth highest in the United States.

Besides Pappas, attendees included Janel Lawton, director of the NH Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry Development; Tyler Ray, founder and outdoor director of Granite Outdoor Alliance; Jayson Seaman, chair of the UNH Department of Recreation Management and Policy; Jada Lindblom, community and economic development field specialist for UNH Cooperative Extension; and Jessyca Keeler, president of Ski NH.

“From our ski slopes to our lakes, outdoor recreation generates billions in revenue, employs tens of thousands of Granite Staters, and is an essential piece of New Hampshire’s economy and identity,” said Pappas.

He added that “outdoor recreation supports other critical sectors of our economy as well, including hospitality, entertainment, and retail. The leaders I met with, representing New Hampshire’s outdoor economy, made clear that we must continue to take steps to address climate change, mitigate its impacts and protect our natural surroundings. We cannot forget the relationship between our environment, our way of life and our economy in New Hampshire.”

‘Actionable steps’

The fellowship “will help expand our capacity for tracking emerging funding opportunities at the federal and regional levels, which is essential for making research-informed development decisions,” according to Seaman.

As part of the state Department of Business and Economic Affairs, the Office of Outdoor Recreation (ORID) works with state and industry partners to coordinate outdoor recreation policy, management and promotion among state and federal agencies and local governments.

The fellowship will support the state’s growing outdoor recreation economy in partnership with UNH, NEMO, the Granite Outdoor Alliance, and ORID.

The UNH Carsey School of Public Policy fellow will be funded for the 2023-24 academic year by NEMO, with a match from the Carsey School.

NEMO representatives shared with the group their support for the priorities of the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2023 policy agenda. They include:

  • Passing America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, which invests in recreation and green infrastructure to enhance access to public lands
  • Establishing a federal Office of Outdoor Recreation;
  • Modernizing the farm bill to support outdoor recreation through updates to the Rural Development, Conservation and Forestry titles
  • Supporting the expansion of state-based outdoor equity funds to improve public lands access for all Americans

“NEMO has invested heavily in our own sustainability efforts, but we need to collaborate with our industry partners and elected officials to enact lasting change,” said Theresa McKenney, director of sustainability at NEMO.

According to Shannon Rogers, an ecological economist with UNH Extension, “it’s challenging to navigate the outdoor economy’s changing policy landscape while simultaneously trying to bring actionable ideas to the local level.

UNH Extension offices are located in each of the state’s 10 counties.

The Granite State Outdoor Alliance includes economic development among its mission goals. Tyler Ray, founder and outdoor director of the alliance, said, “We hope the research will drive actionable steps toward a greater focus on outdoor recreation investments at the local and state level.”

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