How do the regional parks and national forests in WNC affect wages in the surrounding areas?

TEAM 7 – Outdoor Recreation Research

Key Questions:

  1. How do our regional parks and national forest recreation opportunities play into the low wages in WNC?
  2. Since our environment draws tourism in the forms of hiking, fishing, rafting, hunting, etc., how does that industry either promote or hinder living wages?

Summary of Research Findings:

The sectors of businesses and organizations that benefit from the national parks, national forests and outdoor areas contain a wide variety of business models. Living wage means something different to each business model and is sometimes applied differently. If the living wage is not initiated with the initial business plan it is very difficult to implement it at a later date. Several organizations were unwilling for their wage and benefit information to be distributed due to confidentiality concerns. This may present a barrier to a frank discussion going forward.

Organizations supporting the outdoor industry (Chamber of Commerce) often pay living wages to the majority of employees although they have not addressed the issue of living wage per se. National forests support living wage jobs outside of recreation such as the paper and pulp industries. However, outside of the production of paper, most industrial jobs created by these industries are not paying living wages. Although some of the jobs in this sector may pay higher wages, much of the work opportunity tied directly to outdoor recreation (rafting, fishing etc) is seasonal in nature. Some organizations are able to pay a living wage and furnish benefits for a smaller number of year round staff. Likewise, some living wage paying jobs (like server) are indirectly affected due to the seasonal fluctuation of tourism supporting their establishment and may not offer health benefits. Local outdoor/recreation industry manufacturers can avoid this seasonal affect by doing national/international business and are thus more capable of supporting a living wage and full-time employment.

The natural resources in more rural counties have led to the creation of many “heritage tourism” jobs that provide self-employment or very small business opportunities. Some of these jobs pay better than living wage, but tracking that information, due to the self-employment nature of the jobs, has proven difficult.