National attention to and support for Small Business Saturday, held on Nov. 30, has been especially important this year. The recent government shutdown showed the enormity of the economic repercussions that can result– especially for small businesses—when Congress puts politics before its responsibility to govern. By one estimate, $500 million was lost when tourists were unable to visit national parks and sportsmen were locked out of wildlife refuges and other areas at the onset of hunting season. Lesson learned: America’s parks and public lands matter to local economies and small businesses. Protecting our national heritage is important to our economic sustainability, and our legacy to future generations.
Recent polling from the Center for American Progress shows that an overwhelming 82 percent of voters agree the shutdown illustrated the importance of our parks; three in four voters agree it had an impact on local economies. It was hard not to notice the extensive media reports detailing the impact on small businesses from hoteliers to guide services to restaurants.
And it isn’t just businesses near public lands that are affected when these resources are closed or otherwise impaired; an outdoor quality of life lures more than tourists. Small Business Majority’s opinion polling found a majority of non-recreation businessesin Western states point to their state’s parks and public lands as a key reason for relocating to the Rocky Mountain West.
It isn’t surprising then, that two in three voters say Washington should be focusing on creating new parks and expanding outdoor recreational opportunities. Small businesses across the country have appealed to Congress and the White House to protect their public lands.The leadership of local small business owners in Washington and New Mexico for instance, was integral to the President’s decision earlier this year to conserve public lands in those states as national monuments after Congress had failed to pass legislation to do so.
In his 2013 proclamation of National Public Lands Day, President Obama said, “As we come together to honor and restore America's public lands, we recognize their role in shaping our history, enriching our lives, and bolstering our economy.”
That’s not hyperbole. Investing in our nation’s public lands legacy is a proven job-creator. The Outdoor Industry Association’s 2012 report shows an economic impact of $646 billion and more than 6 million jobs. Some may not realize the economic power of the outdoors, but the bottom line is that the outdoor industry employs more Americans than both the construction and transportation industries, and supports twice as many jobs as the oil and gas industry.
Or, as the free-market R Street Institute says: “It would be preposterous to ignore the recreation economy’s potential…. As the United States adjusts to an economy based almost entirely on services, protected lands will form a critical part of our economic future.”
Small Business Saturday is an ongoing signal to support your local employers, which may have been especially hard hit by the shutdown, and to appreciate the role they and our parks and public lands play in enriching our lives and bolstering our economy.That’s no small feat.
Arensmeyer is founder & CEO of Small Business Majority; Vlietstra is director of Government Affairs for the National Association for the Self-Employed; and Kasoff is the president and CEO of Women Impacting Public Policy.