CHAMBER CHAT: Lee County’s out of doors recreation economic system | Archives


Have you ever found yourself at San-Lee Nature Park, just a five minute drive from downtown Sanford, and wonder how lucky we are to have such easy access to hiking and biking? Or maybe thought about preserving a place like the White Pines Nature Preserve and its impact on our local economy?

Well, maybe not so much that second thought. However, the next time you explore one of Lee County’s many natural amenities, you’ll consider the significant impact that nature-based outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, biking, hunting, and boating have on our national, state, and even local, economies.

Across the country, the outdoor recreation economy generates $ 887 billion in consumer spending annually and employs 7.6 million Americans, according to the Outdoor Recreation Association. These numbers continue to rise every year and are even growing faster than the country’s economy as a whole (source: Headwaters Economics).

The effects are just as profound in North Carolina. According to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), “North Carolina’s outdoor recreational activities generate $ 28 billion in consumer spending annually.” With easy access to mountains, rivers, and the ocean, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. In addition, outdoor recreational activities account for 260,000 direct jobs in this state (Source: EDPNC). While many of these jobs are in the service sector and powered by near-natural tourism, manufacturing is an important part of North Carolina’s outdoor recreation. The products made in North Carolina are diverse; From kayaks and hammocks to camping trailers and wool hiking socks, the state has positioned itself as the national leader in the growing outdoor leisure economy. This sector has become so important to North Carolina that the state established its own Outdoor Industry Recruitment Office in 2017, making it only the fourth state bureau to promote outdoor recreational tourism and manufacturing.

What does that mean for us here in Lee County? Consider a local outdoor recreational manufacturer like Cashion Fishing Rods. Or a local outfitter like Endor Paddle. Or a regional mountain bike destination like the San Lee Nature Park. These and many other assets not mentioned in this article are vital to the future of Lee County’s growing economy. As decision makers consider the future of Sanford and Lee Counties, developing resources and opportunities is paramount for outdoor recreational manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and travel destinations to compete in one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy.

John Dean is the Economic Development Manager for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance.

John Dean is the Economic Development Manager for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance.