Jessyca Keeler, Executive Director of Ski-NH, participates in a group activity at an outdoor industry paddling and informational event on the Saco River last Wednesday. Paula Tracy photo
By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
NORTH CONWAY – The state’s outdoor industry is taking stock of what it has to provide a foundation and understand its importance to the state’s economy.
The SE Group of Burlington, Vt. was commissioned by the state to take an in-depth look at what we have here, and North Conway’s Tyler Ray, an attorney and director of the Granite Outdoor Alliance, said it will be an extremely important resource for the future the industry wants talk to the legislature.
Ray brought the outdoor business community together last Wednesday for a six-mile paddle down the Saco River that ended with dinner on a sandy beach, where they learned of a statewide plan to take stock of what the state is doing for recreation in the Has freedom and what it means to the economy of the state.
The New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs and its Outdoor Recreation Industry Development division commissioned SE Group, formerly Snow Engineering of Littleton, to define and quantify the scale of the outdoor recreation industry.
The data will serve as the basis for ORID’s work, said Caleb Weathers, an analyst with SE Group.
He said they are starting a survey right now and are also working on developing an outdoor leisure database.
It will be “a dynamic process that will bring together stakeholders, regions, businesses and leisure enthusiasts,” according to a brochure for the project distributed at the event.
“These guys have a pretty amazing reputation,” Ray said.
Founded by famed Franconia ski trail designer Sel Hannah, the organization has worked to develop resort designs and economic studies for resorts, communities and states from Cannon Mountain to Aspen. It has offices in Colorado, Vermont and Utah.
At The Beach Camping Area, Ray said, “I’m excited about this project because… they will be able to provide empirical data to policy makers in Concord.”
Included in the project will be an inventory of the state’s outdoor facilities, which has never been done on a comprehensive basis.
That includes every trail, park, business, and firm that hires people to work in the outdoor industry, from retail to guides and rental car services, and creates a whole new dataset.
The study will be conducted over the next year.
Among those listening was Northern Waters Outfitters of Errol’s Stuart Hickey, who opened his whitewater rafting business during the pandemic and is keen for it to grow in the state’s northern reaches.
His business is typical of the country’s outdoor industry.
Hickey said, “We’re pretty small, pretty low-key” and is working to advertise through word of mouth.
He urged others in the industry to “come and check us out” on the Androscoggin River, where they take guests down Class II rapids and have a remote campground on the Rapid River.
The sold-out Paddle event, which was a bit like a Chamber of Commerce mixing board, was attended by representatives from the outdoor industry such as Jessyca Keeler, Managing Director of Ski NH, representatives from the retail and outdoor clothing business and representatives from the government’s renewable energy sector.
New Hampshire is the 16th state in the nation to establish an outdoor recreation bureau. She did that two years ago.
Scott Crowder, the state’s first outdoor director at the new state Office of Outside Recreation Industry Development, is returning to the private sector after the department’s successful launch.
A new director has yet to be appointed by the BEA.
The effort comes at a time when a report by Backyard Concept LCC shows that New Hampshire’s outdoor industry employers are targeting a younger demographic to meet growing demand for work, but are finding it difficult to fill the open to fill vacancies with qualified help.
The report shows that the industry experienced a huge boom during the pandemic.
A lack of reinvestment in the workforce, professional development and stagnant wages have left job vacancies and contributed to a weakening workforce pool that is hampering potential development.