State officials in Grand Rapids on Wednesday touted the economic benefits of outdoor recreation, a sprawling statewide sector encompassing major industries like manufacturing and tourism.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also announced that Michigan will join a national consortium of states to promote the economic, social and public health benefits of outdoor recreation, putting the state among “elite” peers like Colorado, Utah and Vermont.
“Michigan is making a national statement,” Whitmer said, referring to her plan next month to join the Confluence of States, a group of eight states that in 2018 signed the Confluence Accords. Michigan will join Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.
Whitmer was joined Wednesday by officials at the Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and private businesses to drive home the point that the state’s natural resources have strong ties to economic development. The group gathered at Outside Coffee Co. in Grand Rapids, which shares property with Woosah, a local outdoor apparel manufacturer.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, 63 percent of Michigan residents participate in outdoor recreation annually. A 2017 report by the Outdoor Industry Association said Michigan’s industry generates $26.6 billion in consumer spending annually and $7.5 billion in wages and salaries, contributing to 232,000 direct jobs. Michigan has more than 8 million acres of publicly accessible lands and 12,000 miles of state-designated trails.
“We have four beautiful seasons, incredible offerings in recreation and phenomenal businesses — we want to harness all of those great strengths,” said Whitmer, adding that she spent time kayaking around Pictured Rocks in the Upper Peninsula and around Mackinac Island this summer.
Whitmer also announced the appointment of Brad Garmon as director of the state’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry. Garmon was previously interim CEO at the Michigan Environmental Council and served as director of Conservation and Emerging Issues. Garmon is the third former Michigan Environmental Council employee to join the Whitmer administration, following Chris Kolb (state budget director) and James Clift (deputy director at the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy).
Garmon said the Whitmer administration is building off more than a century of conservation history in Michigan, including the formation of Trout Unlimited 60 years ago and the recreation funding model under the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.
Garmon said one of his top priorities will be diving into the manufacturing sector’s role in the outdoor recreation economy, helping to recruit and attract new companies.
“Michigan has several major outdoor vehicle, gear and apparel manufacturers headquartered right here that need workers, and lots of small or startup businesses in this space that are positioned to grow,” Garmon said. “This office will help make that recruitment and growth happen.”
He added: “This is going to be amazing. … 2019 is an auspicious year.”