How the Outdoor Industry Found Its Lobbying Voice

More organized than ever, groups like the Outdoor Industry Association have started to make inroads on the advocacy front, thanks to two big factors: the ability to get disparate voices at the table, and the support of industry advocates at the state level.

Colorado and Utah are not the closest places in the world to Washington, DC, but the outdoor industry—thanks in no small part to its economic clout—is well-positioned to make the political gap a lot smaller.

In recent years, groups like the Outdoor Industry Association have been boosting their political clout, taking stances on a variety of issues that directly and indirectly affect the industry—an industry that OIA pegs with generating $646 billion in consumer spending.

(If that sounds like a big number, it is. That tally puts the outdoor industry’s financial impact above that of the automotive industry.)

And the group isn’t afraid to speak up on issues affecting its manufacturing concerns (in 2014, it spent heavily on the Affordable Footwear Act and the U.S. OUTDOOR Act, according to Open Secrets), as well as those that affect the outdoors in general.

In an example of the latter, OIA sent a letter to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus last month, calling on party leaders to reverse their stance against putting states in charge of public lands.

“Though there is much on which we can agree, we disagree with the GOP’s position on transferring federal lands and waters to the states, and will continue to oppose legislation and other policy initiatives at all levels of government that seek to enable or facilitate that objective,” OIA Senior Director of Government Affairs Alexander Boian wrote.

The States Get Involved

This sort of political clout is getting support from the state level as well. Last week, Outside reported that Colorado had appointed a prominent mountain climber, Luis Benitez, as the first director of the state’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office.

OIA lobbyist Jessica Wahl sees Benitez’s background as a major asset as the association tries to make its case for advocacy.

“Most times when you go to meet with members of Congress, you get their staff instead,” Wahl told the magazine. “But he gets almost all member meetings.”

Other states heavily affected by the outdoors, such as Washington State and Utah, have filled similar roles, and those officials are working to bring together the disparate parts of the industry under one common cause.

OIA, Outside noted, has been trying a similar strategy in recent years, holding an annual fly-in in DC that brings together the industry’s many voices. And that sort of collaboration is helping to highlight the fact that the outdoor industry is a force to be reckoned with. By putting the focus on the financial benefits of being eco-friendly, the industry has found a way to effectively make its case.

“It’s not just crazy enviros saying ‘Save the trees, save the rivers’ anymore,” Benitez told the magazine. “It’s a multibillion-dollar industry saying it. That’s power that can influence policy.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!