April Klein: State should leverage its outdoor-recreation economy

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint

Growing up in a family of recreational vehicle manufacturers—and working in the industry for nearly three decades—I know that enjoying the outdoors is second nature to Hoosiers. Boating, fishing, hunting, camping in our state parks, exploring our state in an RV or on a bike—there are so many ways to enjoy Indiana’s outdoors. Outdoor recreation is good for our quality of life, for connection with family and nature, and for our economy.

There are great careers and economic development opportunities. Our rural communities, particularly, benefit because that’s where the majority of the nation’s RVs are produced. Consumers from across the country travel here to attend manufacturer-sponsored events and rallies and to tour manufacturing facilities. There’s an excellent opportunity to expand economic growth by offering these visitors more to do and see as they’re traveling in and out of our state.

That’s why it’s vital that the Indiana House of Representatives join the Senate in passing a resolution to urge the establishment of an Indiana Office of Outdoor Recreation Development (Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 15) within the Indiana Destination Development Corp., or IDDC.

The resolution outlines the roles of the office: promoting the growth of the outdoor recreation economy; bolstering outdoor industry jobs through workforce development; increasing recreation-based economic development, tourism and ecotourism; and promoting the health and social benefits of time spent outside. Seventeen other states across the country have established similar offices.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported in 2019 that outdoor recreation represents 2.2% of U.S. gross domestic product and contributes $778 billion annually to the U.S. economy. In Indiana, the BEA estimates outdoor recreation is 2.8% of the state’s economy, with nearly 110,000 direct jobs. Just one segment of this important sector, the RV industry, has an economic impact of $32.4 billion and supports more than 126,140 jobs and $7.8 billion in wages paid to Hoosiers.

The outdoor industry has room to grow in Indiana. We can use the outdoors to employ more Hoosiers and to recruit and retain talent in other sectors that would benefit from the state’s investing in recreational infrastructure.

At my company, we are incredibly interested in protecting the industries we serve. One of the best ways to do that is to ensure that consumers are served by well-trained teams. Career development throughout the RV industry is one major reason I sit on the board of the RV Technical Institute, a new initiative of the RV Industry Association focused on improving training in our industry. The Office of Outdoor Recreation Development being considered by legislators would help support our workforce development efforts, creating a win-win for employees, employers and the Hoosier economy.

On behalf of Indiana’s RV and boating manufacturers, as well as outdoor enthusiasts across our great state, I want to thank members of the Senate for acting on this important resolution and encourage the House to pass it.

Next time you’re engaged in your favorite outdoor activity in our state, remember that you’re not just having fun and building memories; you’re also helping our state prosper and our community come together.•

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Klein is vice president of customer support services at Elkhart-based Lippert Components Inc.

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