In its 2020 annual report released this week, the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) showcased the industry’s collaborate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including connecting federal agencies to outdoor businesses and helping pass the largest recreation-based legislation in decades.
Throughout last year, ORR members took actions to help protect an industry that Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data confirmed is a driving economic force in the U.S. The industry prioritized focuses such as driving Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) adjustments to help small outdoor businesses, ORR highlighted, in addition to sparking the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA).
Through its work together, ORR added Congress held a record-breaking eight recreation-related hearings where new bills were introduced and moved through committees. Public lands and waters were able to safely reopen across the country, ORR stated, hosting more recreationists than ever.
The organization also worked with federal agencies on operational recreation plans and referenced new BEA data, which highlighted outdoor recreation as comprising 2.1 percent of the U.S. GDP and generating $788 billion in economic output in 2019.
“In spite of the year’s trials and tribulations, the outdoor recreation industry was able to come together like never before and help pass the largest piece of recreation legislation in decades and weather the impacts of COVID-19,” ORR stated.
The organization provided grants to support rural communities that were transitioning to outdoor recreation economies, including an industry survey conducted to find 200 recreation projects in need of Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) funding.
“In December, ORR and The VF Foundation were thrilled to announce that five rural communities received the first round of funding in support of the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities (RERC) program to implement their economic revitalization plans,” ORR stated.
The funding was implemented in addition to technical assistance support from federal agencies in the RERC program. ORR noted its partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Department of Agriculture Rural Development and Northern Border Regional Commission.
“Early in the COVID-19 crisis, ORR convened our members to better understand the collective impact the pandemic was having on our industry and industry’s need to stay afloat,” the report stated.
Oregon State University’s Outdoor Recreation Economy Initiative worked with ORR to track and quantify disruptions and economic impacts within the industry. Multiple surveys were issued to associations, ORR added, including 23,000 businesses.
Although its spring surveys showed “devastating” impacts, the organization cited a rebound beginning to form in its August member survey. By that time, 47 percent of members’ businesses laid off or furloughed staff, and 36 percent of companies reported hiring or seeking more employees.
In regard to a disrupted supply chain or product distribution, 91 percent of members reported experiencing difficulty with production and distribution, while 48 percent saw significant impacts – a decrease since ORR’s previous May survey.
ORR proposed fixes to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in order to ensure outdoor business were eligible to receive loan forgiveness. Weekly calls with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and small business committees in Congress ensured outdoor recreation business needs were represented in relief talks, ORR stated. Those changes were reflected in the Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act and official guidance made through the SBA and Department of the Treasury.
The organization stated it fought for and succeeded in getting trade association relief last year, meaning 501(c)(6) organizations could receive PPP loans if they met certain criteria.
“We engaged governors in conversations around the importance of outdoor recreation as a healthy, safe method of exercise and stress relief during lockdowns,” ORR added. The organization also sparked discussions about how to safely reopen sites with the National Governors Association Outdoor Recreation Learning Network.
A priority to bridge the gap between federal agencies and the industry was highlighted throughout ORR’s report, which detailed the organization’s “crucial role” in connecting land and water management agencies with outdoor recreation.
“ORR met with eight cabinet secretaries and agency leaders to convey the importance of the recreation economy to their work as land and water managers,” the organization stated.
ORR added it was among the first to meet with USFS and Department of the Interior leadership on the GAOA implementation – the largest recreation legislation in decades. The organization stated it provided a framework to coordinate with the agencies on deferred maintenance planning, strategy and project oversight.
“ORR was instrumental in educating Congress on GAOA, gathering and disseminating important information from the agencies, coordinating [Capitol] Hill meetings and outreach from the industry, and ultimately supporting its clean and bipartisan passage through Congress,” the organization added.
Other efforts included more than 130 cross-sector CEOs who signed a letter to Congress that was used on the Senate floor just before votes were called to pass the legislation, ORR stated, in addition to its Executive Director Jessica Turner’s testification before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Covid impacts to public land and water users.
“ORR is proud to release our 2020 annual report showcasing our efforts to lead a collaborative industry response to the pandemic, provide support for rural economic growth, bridge the gap between federal agencies and outdoor recreation, educate lawmakers on the importance of our industry and so much more,” ORR stated. “We are proud of the work ORR’s membership has accomplished, and look forward to another strong year.”