By Park Baker
Staff Writer 

Outdoor Industry Seeking Cooper's Backing – Brevard NC


February 27, 2017

Members of the North Carolina outdoor gear manufacturing community have been working to get a proposal in front of Gov. Roy Cooper to declare the state the top outdoor state east of the Rocky Mountains.

Tom Dempsey, the owner of SylvanSport and the Brevard-based adventure trailer maker, has been working on a presentation and video he wants to get to Cooper soon. Dempsey said his objective is to promote North Carolina being one of the top five outdoor economies in the country and is the biggest player on the East Coast.

“It’s really bringing to light this sector of the economy,” said Dempsey.

The numbers tell the story about the state’s outdoor recreation opportunities and gear manufacturing.

North Carolina has five national forests, 300 miles of coastline, a number of state parks, recreational forests, experimental forests, game lands and scenic highways tying it all together.

The influx of people has spurred the startup and growth of companies such as SylvanSport, Liquid Logic and Industry Nine, which all make award-winning products tested in Western North Carolina.

In North Carolina, outdoor recreation generates $19.2 billion in consumer spending, $5.6 billion in wages and salaries, $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenue, and 192,000 direct North Carolina jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Nationally, outdoor recreation economy trails only behind the financial and insurance sector, and the outpatient health care industry.

The outdoor economy employs more people than the construction, transportation, warehousing and education sectors. The Outdoor Recreation Act signed into law by President Obama last year recognized outdoor recreation as a component of the nation’s GDP to the tune of $650 billion annually.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Recreation Economy Report, outdoor manufacturing and recreation created 6.1 million jobs, and $80 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue.

“Most people don’t realize how big this sector is,” Dempsey said. “Translating that to the state of North Carolina, my objective is to illuminate that and promote it.”

In Western North Carolina there are roughly 40 “outdoor” companies, many of which will come together to showcase their products at the Outdoor Gear Builder event in Asheville on March 18.

Dempsey said he and his cohorts are presenting these facts and figures to state legislators and he had already shared it with N.C. Sen. Chuck Edwards. Edwards represents District 48, which includes Transylvania County.

Edwards couldn’t be reached for comment for this story. Transylvania’s other representative in the General Assembly, N.C. Rep. Cody Henson, who represents District 113, has questioned in the past the focus on tourism and certain outdoor activities.

“I think it’s time we move away from #tourism and #bikes and focus on bringing real #jobs to #district113,” Henson said in a now deleted Twitter account during last year’s election campaign.

Henson was contacted by email and asked several questions related to his statement.

He replied: “I believe it is great that people from all over the world come to see our beautiful mountains and ride the miles of bike trails and paths we have. It’s very important for our local economy, but we have a very diverse population with many different skill sets and my goal is to help attract more jobs in. We can have the seasonal, part-time jobs and have year-round, full-time jobs, so there is something for everybody. I believe it is important for the future of our area and the families that wish to call this area home for years to come that we work across all levels of government and with the various boards to attract jobs to this area.

“Jobs are my top priority, and I look forward to working with local boards and officials to see that more jobs are able to come to Transylvania, Henderson and Polk counties.”

Tourism and outdoor gear manufacturing are a focus area of the Transylvania Economic Alliance, the leading economic development group in the county.

“Tourism and outdoors gear, certainly bikes included, are real target markets for us that we spend time being involved with,” said the Alliance’s executive director, Josh Hallingse. “I think from an economic development standpoint, from my perspective, there are two or three that bring outside dollars in. Tourism is one, and manufacturing is another.”

Brevard College is a third economic development driver in the community, he said.

Hallingse said that the educational requirements for the outdoor gear industry are very specific.

“Our workforce is a challenge,” said Hallingse. “But we do have an opportunity to improve. Our workforce is a little over 12,000 people, and 2,500 of those people commute outside of the county everyday. I feel like there is an opportunity to retain that local talent.”

The other challenge, that has been voiced repeatedly, is the lack of adequate sites, with utilities, to attract outdoor gear manufacturers, and others, to Transylvania, rather than Buncombe and Henderson counties.

“If we don’t have sites with water sewer and natural gas, then our ability to win that project will be much lower,” Hallingse said.


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