Recommendations to sustain Maine's outdoor recreation economy
Formed in 2017, Maine Outdoor Brands (MOB) represents 100+ businesses and organizations in the state of Maine that are enabling outdoor recreation, from outdoor gear makers to guiding companies. For us, outdoor recreation and economic opportunity are inextricably linked. At 4.8%, outdoor recreation makes up a larger percentage of Maine’s economy than almost any other state and is currently growing faster than the state’s economy.
COVID-19 represents a significant challenge to our outdoor industry, with brands facing closed shops and facilities, dwindling cash flow and uncertainty on the cusp of what is typically a busy summer season in Maine. As the coronavirus spreads, our common needs and recommendations for policy makers to sustain Maine’s outdoor recreation economy include providing the following:
Small business financial certainty
MOB members are primarily small businesses, and many have already had to lay off staff temporarily, cut back operations and cancel revenue generating events. Without additional capital and financial certainty, businesses are at the risk of failing. In a survey of our members completed on March 24, only 23% were confident they would not have to lay off staff. Roughly 75% reported significant long-term impacts and disruption to their businesses.
Streamlined access to low or no interest disaster relief loans is critical. The new federal Paycheck Protection Program allowing a loan forgiveness option sounds promising, and MOB members (including small businesses, non-profits and sole proprietorships) have expressed a strong interest in better understanding the process for seeking support from it.
Clear guidance on outdoor recreation
All MOB members rely on outdoor recreation opportunities – from customers using outdoor gear and equipment to being able to offer guided trips and outdoor experiences. The public health requirements around social distancing and staying indoors are without a doubt necessary at this time, but they also pose a significant challenge to outdoor brands, particularly those guides, outfitters and camps/lodges that are gearing up for what is typically the busy season. Many of these businesses and organizations could still provide services while respecting and supporting public health guidelines, particularly if group sizes are limited to a safe and appropriate level.
In order to prepare for the upcoming months, our members would benefit from forward-looking guidance and information that the state can provide to clarify what public lands and waters will be open to the public and what limits should be placed on group size that can be applied to outdoor recreation. Such information would address the current uncertainty and help businesses and organizations plan for when to open and how to approach general operations this summer.
The majority of MOB manufacturing brands rely on a global supply chain and have reported disruptions and uncertainty around sourcing materials and products. Suspending tariffs placed on imports essential to our industry including Section 301 Chinese tariffs would provide much needed relief to Maine brands during this crisis.
(updated March 25, 2020)