Outdoor recreation is a billion-dollar industry in the state, and industry leaders have joined forces to make their voices heard. With an established membership in the western part of the state, the N.C. Outdoor Recreation Coalition is reaching out to its eastern recreation partners.
Cliff Ray, founder and owner of the local rescue board manufacturer P2P Rescue, was recently nominated to serve on the N.C. Outdoor Recreation Coalition (NCOREC) Board of Directors and hosted his first facility visit with several local officials and state legislators in attendance Feb. 4.
Founded in 2017, NCOREC provides a unified voice for North Carolina’s $28 billion outdoor recreation industry. The nonprofit trade association is made up of member companies and organizations and the coalition advocates on behalf of the industry at the General Assembly in Raleigh.
“Our goals are to promote existing outdoor recreation companies, to recruit new companies to locate in North Carolina and to increase public access to outdoor recreation,” Ray said. “I am excited to be the first board member east of [Interstate] 95.”
The industry, which includes appealing to both in-state and out-of-state visitors, is credited with supporting 260,000 jobs in North Carolina, according to state economic development officials.
Small outdoor recreation businesses in Western North Carolina saw the need for an organization that represented their industry’s needs in Raleigh, and the group now wants to forge connections around the state.
“The western part of the state did the heavy lifting to get the coalition going, and the eastern part of the state has a voice that represents them. My job is to bring in more people, so we have a bigger voice,” Ray said. “The value is having eyes, ears and a voice in Raleigh. There was no collective voice prior to the coalition.”
The mission of the coalition, according to the NCOREC website is “to spur economic development, strengthen outdoor infrastructure, improve public health, and ensure that all North Carolinians can benefit from our state’s vibrant outdoor industry and extraordinary outdoor resources.”
With so many seeking outdoor activities during the pandemic, the industry has grown tremendously, a fact that is not lost on members of the local legislative delegation.
“If we learned anything in this pandemic, it’s that people need to spend more time outside,” said state Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover.
There is a provision in the state budget to create an action plan for outdoor recreation to see where investments need to be made, said state Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover.
Ray and his team at P2P Rescue build rescue boards for water rescues around the world.
Prior to the pandemic, Ray got foam blanks for board designs from California. But when “everything shut down,” Ray discovered that a business in High Point had the foam available, and he partnered with them to build the blanks at half the cost.
During the early part of the pandemic, Ray was able to expand his board line to include surfboards.
“We got pulled into the surfboard industry during COVID,” Ray said of his newly formed partnership with Green Room Board Co. “Few Made in America companies make entry-level boards, so with our new Hello Surf line of boards, we come to the market with lower price point surfboards because we take advantage of the resources right here in North Carolina.”
P2P creates about eight rescue boards every two-to-three weeks and 14 surfboards in the same timeframe.
“It’s fun, and we have capacity that only a few people on the East Coast can do,” Ray said.
For Ray, the business is personal. When Ray was just a teenager, his father died in a drowning accident, so the business of saving lives is more than a business, it’s a passion.
P2P is the official rescue board of the U.S. Lifesaving Association, and it serves 150 agencies across the country. P2P is currently building Wrightsville Beach’s first rescue board.
Making sure these stories get told in Raleigh is one of the coalition’s goals.
The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) is another facet of support that the NCOREC has behind it as it works to support the needs of existing businesses and recruit new businesses to the state.
“The coalition is about relationships. Storytelling and connecting with people and their stories is so important,” said Amy Allison, director of the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office within the state economic development agency. “This gives our legislators a face to the industry, which involves so many sectors including land management and small businesses that make up the outdoor recreation ecosystem. And the coalition is a hub, a connecting point for them.
“We are a hub for outdoor recreation in the nation,” Allison added. “North Carolina’s outdoor recreation industry supports the quality of life for residents and attracts a talented workforce.”
To continue to provide these contributions to the state, the coalition is dedicated to addressing workforce development by supporting training for the needs of this industry.
“We’ve got good growth in the region across all industry sectors, but the workforce is definitely the challenge at the moment,” said James Wolfe, EDPNC’s industry expansions manager for the region.
Part of the coalition’s mission involves working with colleges and universities to support the growing workforce industry needs.
Schools and universities make up part of the NCOREC membership that includes manufacturers, outfitters, guides and nonprofit organizations.
“Every North Carolinian has a romantic notion of this state with the mountains and the coast,” Butler said. “The eastern part of the state requires a bigger voice.”