Central Louisiana has lots of outdoor economic opportunity, says BIG Idea luncheon speaker
So what’s the BIG Idea? How to turn Central Louisiana’s outdoor recreation resources into economic opportunities.
Central Louisiana has tremendous natural resources like the Kisatchie National Forest, trails, lakes and waterways to tap into to and get the ball rolling on developing an outdoor economy, said Jonas Crews of Heartland Forward, out of Bentonville, Ark., which is a “think and do” tank that helps rural innovation throughout the middle of the country.
Outdoor recreation has immense potential to help grow Central Louisiana economically, said Jim Clinton, president and CEO of Louisiana Central, the area's economic-development organization.
There is more outdoor economic opportunity here than residents realize to open businesses related to the outdoors, said Crews.
On Wednesday, Louisiana Central hosted the BIG Idea Luncheon with Crews as the guest speaker. The luncheon was also a brainstorming session where those in attendance could share ideas about outdoor recreation, entrepreneurship opportunities or how to promote the region.
America fell back in love with the outdoors during COVID, said Crews. He doesn’t think that love it going away anytime soon.
He added that the outdoor recreation economy should focus on the residents first and not the tourists. The residents who live here will use the resources and take care of them.
Like many people in Central Louisiana Haley Andries, Glenda Guimbellot and Sara Lowry, all of Woodworth, love to recreate outdoors and are avid outdoor enthusiasts. They even encourage their children to spend time outside.
Andries said they know how much Central Louisiana has to offer such as trails and lakes.
They attended the luncheon to learn, listen and see how they could help promote the outdoors.
Outdoor recreation includes everything outdoors from sporting events, amusement parks and outdoor festivals to boating, hunting, fishing, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding or mountain biking, explained Crews.
Last year he toured Kisatchie, Toledo Bend and the Cane River and said he found the area “stunning.”
The area is home to Kisatchie National Forest, the state’s only national forest, which spreads over 604,000 acres across Central Louisiana.
“I don't know that I've ever looked at a region and seen a higher percentage of that region that's National Forest,” he said.
And data Crews has seen shows that people in Central Louisiana love to recreate and the selling of outdoor recreation equipment in the area is high. But that has not translated into people creating businesses that manufacture outdoor products or offer services related to the outdoors. Manufacturing of outdoor recreation equipment tends to pay better salaries as well, he said.
Major entrepreneurial opportunities exist, he said. People might have an idea about how to make a recreation activity better but they just need to be told it’s a good idea and pursue it.
He pointed out Luke McCoy, owner of Hybrid Boats in Bunkie who came up with a design for a better boat. He now sells them regionally.
Among the activities people enjoy doing are mountain biking and gravel cycling, two of the fastest growing hobbies in the country, said Crews. Central Louisiana has a lot of trails including gravel road trails that gravel cyclists like.
“Fortunately for Central Louisiana, gravel cyclists would really like swampy dirt roads in remote rural areas,” he said.
Kisatchie has a lot of elevation that mountain bikers like. Crews found that the biggest hills in Kisatchie are around 230 feet in elevation.
With Louisiana having a rich culianary heritage, he suggested tying that in with outdoor recreation. He referenced the luxury hunting Honey Brake Lodge in Jonesville that has a chef that prepares gourmet meals.
“I think that it’s important to remember is that if you're going to have an outdoor recreation economy, that really starts with the amenities, and that starts with people interacting with nature,” said Crews.
This article originally appeared on Alexandria Town Talk: Central Louisiana has lots of outdoor economy potential, says speaker