South Carolina’s Overlooked Economic Giant, Ian Sanchez


The following is from our Charleston SC  friend, Ian Sanchez.  He is a high energy environmental educator and proponent of  sustainable tourism.  You can check him out at:




South Carolina’s Overlooked Economic Giant 

This giant is wide awake and active right through the recession.

South Carolina’s wealth has always been derived from her natural resources.  Rice, indigo, cotton and lumber created the wealthiest people in the North American colonies.  Then devastating wars, boll weevils, hurricanes, earthquakes and unfortunate circumstances changed the economic landscape.  Over the past 150 years, nature has reclaimed much of the state’s agricultural land and industrial pockets.  Now that she is again in control, her charming aesthetic qualities 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 230,000 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.  This is going to be serious”.  When I spoke to Charlton Durant, a senior 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.

“Confluence Water Sports has prospered during the economic crisis over the last several years” said CEO Sue Rechner during our interview for the Outdoor Economy segment of SCETV’s The Big Picture in July of last year. 

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.

“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. 

“We are seeing more visitors who are driving here from as far away as Michigan,” said my friends Anne Goold and Scott Kennedy with Carolina Heritage Outfitters, which offers tree houses rentals, canoes and camping on the Edisto River in Canadys, SC.

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 is a leader 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.  The film “The Big Year” featuring Jack Black and Steve Martin has inspired even more interest in feathered species.  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.

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.


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