New Normal Consulting | Predicting the Effects of the U.S. Presidential Election on the Outdoor Industry
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Predicting the Effects of the U.S. Presidential Election on the Outdoor Industry

The breaking point -- frayed roped.

Predicting the Effects of the U.S. Presidential Election on the Outdoor Industry

The unprecedented complexion of the United States presidential election has attracted the attention of most Americans, if not many others around the world. There is a collective feeling we are all waiting to exhale the morning of Wednesday, November 9th. The deep divisions within the U.S .body politic have siloed the electorate into ideologically armed camps. While the implications of this unique set of circumstances and the potential polar opposite outcomes of the November voting will have far-reaching effects, beyond our industry, we at New Normal Consulting are keen to understand what outdoor leaders predict as the most worrisome or hopeful impacts on our businesses.

We foresee the potential for either beneficial or detrimental impacts resulting from this election in a number of areas:

  • Progress toward addressing climate change.
  • Political threats to our public lands.
  • Possible changes to trade agreements.
  • Changes in regulations.
  • Changes in labor law.

In order to best gauge the future-forward thinking regarding potential industry impacts from the election outcome, we reached out to a number of colleagues in the U.S. outdoor industry.

“Short term I don’t think the election will have much impact as both candidates are focused on alternate priorities. Nothing bad, but also nothing great either. Long term is a much different story. The health of the outdoor economy is directly tied to the physical health of the outdoors,” Hap Klopp, founder of The North Face and current outdoor industry consultant told us. “We are at a tipping point in terms of climate change. Unless it is forcefully and positively addressed during this next administration, the outdoors, as we now know it, may well be irreparably and irreversibly damaged. And with that damage, the health of the entire outdoor economy will be put at risk. Donald Trump’s election would be an unmitigated disaster for the wilderness. He refuses to acknowledge climate change and he embraces policies that will actually exacerbate the problem. Hillary Clinton understands the issues and the severity of the problem. If she can orchestrate some comity on the issue between our feuding political parties she would give the outdoor economy a chance to not only survive but also thrive.”

Darren Bush, owner of the iconic Rutabaga Paddlesports store in Madison, Wisconsin commented, “If Clinton wins, nothing will change dramatically, especially if Congress continues to roadblock every initiative put forward. Clinton only looks liberal compared to the Tea Party. Nixon created the EPA, which was supposed to be horribly anti-business. Turns out it wasn’t. If Trump wins, I believe the economy will be significantly upset, at least for the short term. No one really knows his policy positions on anything other than ‘I’ll make it awesome.’ The financial world is comfortable with Hillary — some might say too comfortable, but at least it’s stable.”

Alex Boian, Senior Director, Government Affairs for the Outdoor Industry Association shared, “Every election matters, but this year there could not be a more stark contrast between the two leading candidates for president. There are clear and definitive implications for the outdoor industry in the United States and globally. Secretary Clinton has laid out a very comprehensive plan to invest in public lands and waters and to double the outdoor recreation economy in the next ten years. She believes, as we do, that the outdoor industry is and will be a strong economic driver, nationally and in states and communities across the country. Donald Trump hasn’t said a lot on these issues, but has stated he wants more oil and gas drilling on public lands and has floated a plan to appoint an oil and gas industry executive as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. On international trade, both candidates oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an important agreement for the outdoor industry, but Trump has taken a ‘protectionist’ position on trade that would likely harm the outdoor recreation economy, and more broadly the U.S. economy.”

Peter Metcalf, Founder and CEO Emeritus of Black Diamond, gave us the following look ahead: “I am a lifelong climber and skier, a true Teddy Roosevelt conservationist, and an outdoor industry and human powered sports leader. This election is so fundamental in its choices that I would say it’s an almost existential question of ‘Do we believe our industry, our collegial, collaborative universal ‘Esperanto’-like sports, and enlightened approach to sustainable existence with the last wild places on the planet can prosper–let alone survive–when one of the candidates is attacking the fundamentals of Western democracy, human civility, common decency, and fifty years of building a regulatory environment that protects clean air, clean water and wild places from crony capitalism & swashbuckling, shortsighted profiteers and those who seek to privatize gain and socialize their losses’. The answer I believe is obvious. Our activities and a focus on the health of our planet begin reasonably far up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A president that takes us on a quick trajectory toward the second dark age would be a disaster for our industry, our sports, society, humanity and the planet.”

The New Normal View is that this election is enormously consequential.

  • A President who denies climate change could merely ignore the Paris Agreement, an accord now supported by sixty-two nations and recently ratified by the European Parliament. This would delay participation by the U.S., one of the larger polluters in the world but with an economy that has real power to move the work forward.
  • A Republican victory will signal Western officials that auctioning off public lands–Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy and Americans’ commonly owned heritage—is no longer off the table. These are the places our outdoor consumers recreate and they could be for sale.
  • While it appears the Trans-Pacific Partnership is at risk of not passing, more concerning are the Trump campaign threats to punish countries key to our supply chain via unspecified methods. The incendiary nature of the rhetoric alone should be of concern to us.
  • Conservative politicians rail, albeit non-specifically, against “over-regulation”. However it is unclear what regulations they would abolish and how this might change agencies such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which all outdoor manufacturers must deal with.
  • Changes to minimum wage laws, already taking effect in locations like New York, Seattle and California, will impact retailers in particular who are already struggling with rising real estate and insurance costs. The current federal minimum wage is USD $7.25 per hour. Many locations are pressing toward an increase to USD $15.00 per hour, either in the near term or phased in over the next few years. A Clinton victory would likely hasten these changes.
  • We should also note that, as of this post and realizing the polls shift faster than the weather changes, while the U.S. Presidential election is dominating media and mind-share, the U.S. Senate is currently forecast to change from Republican to split control, which has far-reaching implications and a direct effect on a new President’s ability to make change.

Predicting our direction after inauguration day on January 20th of 2017 is difficult, since there has been little substantial discussion of policy, even with highly publicized debates and advertising. We do not see that improving before the election, so votes will be cast without sufficient discovery. To be sure, there are other implications we have not addressed, but these are the most significant. And they are enough: This election could not be more meaningful for our businesses, our consumers and our wild places.

Many thanks to John Evans for the one-time use of his copyrighted image. Learn more about the photographers who graciously provide us with images to use on this website by going to Meet Our Photographers

Geoff O'Keeffe

Geoff O’Keeffe is an outdoor industry professional with over thirty years’ experience in every aspect of operations and management. Geoff has served as president of four companies, held executive roles in five others, been part of two start-up teams, and has operated in branded wholesale, brick-and-mortar retail, e-commerce, manufacturing and non-profit environments. Geoff’s unique areas of expertise include general management, strategic planning, project management, merchandising and inventory planning, sourcing, and supply chain. Geoff takes a particularly keen interest in the subtle dynamics of building, training and sustaining the “human engine” of creativity, teamwork and commitment within organizations. Geoff has served five non-profit boards, including ORCA (early Outdoor Industry Association), the Conservation Alliance and Paradox Sports. Geoff was a founding member of the organization that became the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance.

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