Originally published on Star Tribune.
What do online learning, recycling and back pain have in common? There’s probably a joke in there somewhere, but the serious answer is that each of those sectors contributes more than $100 billion to the U.S. economy. And the latest member to join the $100 billion club is the RV industry.
Indeed, when the latest RVs Move America Economic Impact Study was released this week at the annual meeting of the RV Industry Association (RVIA), it revealed that the industry has an overall economic impact on the U.S. economy of $114 billion.
The study shows in dramatic fashion that RVs are not just the familiar highway scene of an American summer. Instead, they’re the heart of an industry that has become an American juggernaut, a business that has tripled in size since the Great Recession of 2009.
The question then becomes: What is it in 2019 that might put such a successful industry — one that supports nearly 600,000 jobs, contributes more than $32 billion in wages, and pays more than $12 billion in federal, state and local taxes — at risk?
The answer can be found in the 1950s.
An outdated Eisenhower-era federal campground infrastructure, with crumbling roads and bridges, deferred maintenance needs and limited camping availability, is jeopardizing not only the RV industry but the entire outdoor recreation industry.
Deferred maintenance costs are stacking up at key federal land agencies, like the National Park Service (NPS). According to the most recent NPS Asset Inventory Summary, there is $78 million in campground infrastructure deferred-maintenance needs, as well as more than $6.5 billion in deferred maintenance directly affecting roads, bridges and water systems on NPS lands.
Since we’re talking numbers, the $114 billion total annual RV industry economic impact includes $25.6 billion contributed by RV campgrounds and related travel. The 25 million Americans who go RVing each year contribute not just to the economy but specifically to the outdoor recreation economy which, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, represents 2.2% of the gross domestic product.
When Americans participate in outdoor recreation such as RVing and camping, they buy gas, gear, equipment and food. In return, the outdoor recreation industry contributes $65.3 billion in annual tax revenue to federal coffers. In fact, a recent study confirmed that for every dollar Congress invests in the National Park Service, $10 is returned to the U.S. economy — which directly benefits our nation’s rural areas and gateway communities near national parks. What our industry is suggesting to improve campgrounds involves more than just laying some new asphalt, painting some bigger parking spaces and sprucing up the restrooms. There are new revenue-generating experiences and facilities that can be offered to the public.
For instance, shoulder and nonpeak seasons might be extended; dynamic fee categories reflective of improved campsites/services could be implemented; and rentals of traditional RVs, park model RVs and outdoor recreation equipment/gear should be used to generate additional revenue that will drive rural prosperity and provide enhanced visitor experiences.
And did I mention Wi-Fi? Certainly, many column inches in this publication and elsewhere have been filled with the common-sense suggestion of the need for improved broadband access in rural areas. What hasn’t been written about so much is the potential positive impact of better broadband for federal land agency front-country sites and key road corridors. Such advanced service would provide consistent Wi-Fi coverage at campgrounds.
What is it exactly, that our industry would like done? Here are two solutions members of Congress can act on today:
- Cosponsor S. 500/H.R. 1225 — the Restore Our Parks Act and the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act. These bipartisan bills offer innovative solutions and sustainable funding that will address the deferred-maintenance backlog on federal lands, which is critical to improving and expanding federal campgrounds.
- Support a comprehensive package of bipartisan recreation-related legislation that includes bills like the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, which offers sensible, noncontroversial proposals to update processes and policies on our nation’s public lands and waters to improve access and experiences for all forms of outdoor recreation.
As summer comes into full swing, Americans long for outdoor recreation — and for Washington to come together on solutions that work for our country. We have laid out two options that will fulfill both.