South Carolina’s Own “Overlooked Economic Giant”

By on December 12, 2013
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South Carolina’s “Overlooked Economic Giant”

This giant has been wide awake and active right through the recession.

South Carolina’s wealth has been derived from her natural resources throughout the state’s history. The state’s natural resources provided for the people for thousands of years and helped to create some of the largest fortunes in the world. Over the past 150 years, mother nature has reclaimed much of the state’s agricultural land and early industrial pockets. Now that she is again in control, South Carolina’s charming aesthetic qualities and the stories of her people are creating a new kind of economic giant that is growing despite economic challenges.

The outdoor recreation industry has contributed $646 billion dollars to the US economy and created over 6.1 million American jobs according to a 2012 report by the Outdoor Industry Association. The significance of that is really driven home when one realizes the automotive, pharmaceutical and fuel industries each accounted for less than $360 billion and nearly half the number of jobs.

Back in 2009, the USC Moore School of Business produced a report showing the “Underappreciated Assets” clearly tied to South Carolina’s natural resources (not including agriculture), accounted for $30 billion dollars of the state’s economic output and was responsible for employing over 230 million people.

These numbers show no signs of slowing down.

When the economic crash of 2008 happened, I called my friends in the outdoor industry and warned them: “You better plan to tighten up in the coming years because this is going to be serious!” When I spoke to a senior outdoor guide who had worked in various parts of the outdoor industry for over 30 years, he was calm. He said the outdoor industry usually does well in a poor economy.

He was right!

As a guest host for SCETV’s The Big Picture “Outdoor Economy” episode, I interviewed Sue Rechner, CEO of Confluence Watersports. Based in Greenville, Confluence Water Sports is the largest manufacturer of kayaks in the world and has been located in the upstate of South Carolina for over 30 years. Sue explained that “Confluence Water Sports has prospered during the economic crisis over the last several years”.  South Carolina has benefited from Confluence’s success. “99.6% of our products are manufactured right here in Greenville, South Carolina” Sue said. “We, as a company within this broader industry, spend over $5 million in the state of South Carolina to support our organization. We generate another $11 million in revenue by the goods and services we sell in South Carolina that turn into consumer purchases. People who engage in outdoor activities continue to buy products, goods and services because it is the kind of lifestyle they like to celebrate.”


When the going gets tough, the tough go camping.

Many new businesses that offer camping, hiking, biking, sailing and paddlesports have sprung up all over South Carolina. The outdoor industry as a whole has continued to grow 5% a year across the US since 2008. Why is South Carolina in such a great position to take advantage of the growth of the outdoor industry?

South Carolina leads the nation in land conservation and historic preservation. The state is blessed with majestic landscapes and vast expanses of protected lands that support some of the most diverse wildlife in the world.

Wildlife viewing is one of the strongest segments of the outdoor economy with birders making up the largest group. Over 71 million Americans spent over $45 billion in retail sales on feeding and observing wildlife according to the US Fish and Wildlife report in 2006 . South Carolina is located right on the Atlantic flyway where thousands of migratory birds pass through every year on their way back and forth from their breeding grounds. Birders have reported seeing over “50 species in an afternoon” at wildlife refuges such as Cape Romain, Santee, Waccamaw and the ACE Basin.

Birds are just one example of the diverse wildlife that can be found in huge tracts of protected land in South Carolina’s county, state and national parks and wildlife refuges. From elk and black bear in the mountains to alligators and dolphins on the coast, animals that require a wide range to survive still roam through the South Carolina wilderness.

As habitats in other parts of the country continue to shrink back in the face of human development, South Carolina’s conservation areas will continue to grow in value and be a desirable destination for animals and nature enthusiasts alike. The protected swamps, rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, barriers islands and the creatures that inhabit them may serve as renewable fuel for South Carolina’s economy for years to come.

I am presently working with the South Carolina Heritage Corridor and other stakeholders on a statewide branding and marketing campaign to highlight some of the vast natural and cultural treasures of the state in a project called the South Carolina Great Outdoors project.

It does not seem to matter what happens on Wall Street. Wealth may once again be derived from the natural assets of South Carolina in a way that preserves them for future generations.

Some Sources:




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