Since the onset of the pandemic, the outdoor industry has been able find the so-called silver linings in what has been an unprecedented situation. Positive outlooks and creative innovations allowed companies and organizations to pivot around obstacles and keep things moving forward, welcoming more and more new people into the outdoors. While supply chain issues are still present, the industry has met this challenge head on and been credited for helping keep sectors of the economy afloat.

As the journey continues, it’s evident the outdoor industry isn’t immune to the workforce shortage being experienced across the nation. For many reasons, ranging from housing, lack of childcare to career changes and more, businesses of all types are finding it difficult to fill vacancies.

To be competitive in the hiring market, employers, and even cities and regions, are getting creative. A major Wisconsin printing company is advertising its open positions on billboards with a $2,000 hiring bonus. In Northwest Arkansas, people that relocate to the region for work can apply for a $10,000 reward and a new bike or membership to a museum; in West Virginia, a similar program offers $10,000 up front plus free outdoor recreation for a year, and another $2,000 for staying a full year.

With 7.1 million more Americans drawn outside last year (a total of 160.7 million) coupled with the boom of “Zoom towns,” outdoor recreation is a value proposition the industry has long known but is now being leveraged as an incentive for talent recruitment.

A 2019 report from Headwaters Economics revealed that nationwide, on average, “recreation counties” (as defined by the USDA’s Economic Research Service as having large recreation-related economies) especially in rural areas were more successful in attracting residents than “non-recreation counties.” While many communities have seen the economic benefit of outdoor recreation that comes from visitor spending, many have not fully understood the long-term economic benefits of drawing new visitors and businesses. The study also showed earnings per job was less in recreation counties, but it grew six times faster than in non-recreation counties.

As rural communities fight the trend of declining population and as businesses work to attract talent, investing in and promoting outdoor recreation offerings can be an important part of the economic development plan.

Article from Wisconsin Office of Outdoor Recreation. Subscribe here to get the Office of Outdoor Recreation’s newsletter.