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WNC Business

WNC’s outdoor amenities create layers of economic opportunity

Jun 04, 2024 02:09AM ● By WNC Business

Western North Carolina’s outdoor industry popularity is anchored by a plethora of recreation possibilities. Between Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pisgah National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Appalachian Trail, and a variety of state parks, forests, and recreation areas, the region continues to draw visitors and new residents alike to enjoy the outdoors.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was the most visited national park in the country in 2021, followed by Great Smoky Mountains National Park, bringing a combined 30 million visitors to the area. A regional collaborative identified $773 million in GRP and approximately $1.4 billion in sales in 2020.

In 2023, a story map titled ‘Outdoor Industry and Gear Production in WNC’ was created in a collaboration under an EDA Grant, led by the Land of Sky Regional Council. The partners were LOSRC, SW Commission, High Country Council of Government, and Riverbird Research/Asheville Chamber; supported by NC Biotech Center, Outdoor Gear Builders, and the North Carolina Economic Development Partnership. Paul Moon with LOSRC was the project manager and Erica Anderson helped lead the project.

WNC’s landscape and outdoor amenities have created a hub for outdoor gear manufacturers. The manufacturing activities create a strong local supply chain for adventure providers, and in 2020, $42 million of the $122 million, or 34%, spent on industry-to-industry purchases occurred in WNC.

Because of the growth of the industry, producing a skilled workforce to support the industry is a necessity. The seven manufacturing industries supporting outdoor gear creation saw a 79% jobs growth rate from 2015 to 2020, and education and workforce development programs at local institutions of higher learning have increased to keep up with demand.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some outdoor gear manufacturers shifted to the medical market. Kitsbow, a cycling apparel manufacturer, shifted to producing cloth masks and was recognized by the New York Times as “the best reusable face mask on the market.” Within two years, their 143,000 masks produced contributed to more than $3 million in sales.

Camper trailer manufacturer SylvanSport quickly shifted to producing face shields with the goal of keeping employees working. The team “didn’t lose a single payroll hour,” and produced more than 100,000 shields during the first year of the pandemic.

Increasingly renowned as the “Eastern capital of the outdoor industry,” the sector is expected to add 1,200 jobs by 2025.

For more details, visit and click Outdoor Economy Collaborative (I or II).