Outdoor recreation is a billion-dollar industry in the state, and industry leaders have come together to make their voices heard. With an established membership in the western part of the state, the NC Outdoor Recreation Coalition reaches out to its eastern recreational partners.
Cliff Ray, founder and owner of local rescue board manufacturer P2P Rescue, was recently nominated to the NC Outdoor Recreation Coalition (NCOREC) board of directors and hosted his first visit to the facility on February 4 with several local officials and state legislators.
Founded in 2017, NCOREC provides a unified voice for North Carolina’s $28 billion outdoor recreation industry. The not-for-profit trade association is made up of member companies and organizations and the Coalition, which represents the industry at the Raleigh General Assembly.
“Our goal is to enhance existing outdoor recreation businesses, attract new businesses to locate in North Carolina, and increase public access to outdoor recreation,” said Ray. “I am pleased to be the first board member east of [Interstate] 95.”
According to state economic development officials, the industry, which attracts local and international visitors, is credited with supporting 260,000 jobs in North Carolina.
Small outdoor recreation businesses in western North Carolina recognized the need for an organization to represent the needs of their industry in Raleigh, and the group is now looking to make connections across the state.
“The western part of the state has done the heavy lifting to get the coalition off the ground and the eastern part of the state has a voice representing it. My job is to get more people on board so we can have a bigger voice,” Ray said. “The value is having eyes, ears and a voice in Raleigh. Before the coalition, there was no collective voice.”
The coalition’s mission, according to the NCOREC website, is to “advance economic development, strengthen outdoor infrastructure, improve public health and ensure that all North Carolinians benefit from our state’s vibrant outdoor industry and exceptional outdoor resources.” can benefit.”
With so many seeking outdoor activities during the pandemic, the industry has grown tremendously, a fact not lost on members of the local legislative delegation.
“If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s that people need to spend more time outdoors,” said State Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover.
There is a provision in the state budget to create an outdoor recreation action plan to see where investments need to be made, said State Senator Michael Lee, R-New Hanover.
Ray and his team at P2P Rescue build rescue panels for water rescues around the world.
Before the pandemic, Ray got foam blanks for board designs from California. But when “everything ground to a halt,” Ray discovered that a company in High Point had the foam available, and he teamed up with them to make the blanks at half the price.
At the start of the pandemic, Ray was able to add surfboards to his board line.
“We’ve been sucked into the surfboard industry during COVID,” Ray said of his newly formed partnership with Green Room Board Co. “Few Made-in-America companies make entry-level boards, so we’re joining them with our new Hello Surf line of boards the market with surfboards at lower prices because we use the resources here in North Carolina.”
P2P creates about eight rescue boards every two to three weeks and 14 surfboards in the same period.
“It’s fun, and we have capacity that few people on the East Coast can match,” Ray said.
For Ray, business is personal. When Ray was a teenager, his father died in a drowning accident, so the business of saving lives is more than a business, it’s a passion.
P2P is the official rescue body of the US Lifesaving Association and serves 150 agencies across the country. P2P is currently building Wrightsville Beach’s first rescue board.
Ensuring these stories are told in Raleigh is one of the coalition’s goals.
The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) is another facet of support NCOREC has behind as it works to support the needs of existing businesses and attract new businesses to the state.
“The coalition is about relationships. Telling stories and connecting with people and their stories is so important,” said Amy Allison, director of the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office within the state economic development agency. “This gives our lawmakers a face to the industry, which spans so many sectors including land management and small businesses that make up the outdoor recreation ecosystem. And the coalition is a hub, a connection point for them.
“We are a center for outdoor recreation in the nation,” Allison added. “North Carolina’s outdoor recreation industry supports the quality of life of residents and attracts a talented workforce.”
To continue making these contributions to the state, the coalition is dedicated to human resources development by supporting training for the needs of this industry.
“We have good growth across all industry sectors in the region, but the workforce is definitely the challenge right now,” said James Wolfe, Industry Expansions Manager for the region at EDPNC.
Part of the coalition’s mission includes working with colleges and universities to meet industry’s growing labor needs.
Schools and universities are part of the NCOREC membership, which includes manufacturers, outfitters, tour guides and non-profit organizations.
“Every North Carolinian has a romantic image of this mountain-coast state,” Butler said. “The eastern part of the state needs a bigger voice.”