The fact that this year’s inaugural Meet the Mountains Festival is being anchored in Johnson City is no accident.
It is no secret that the city’s leaders are looking to establish the city as a basecamp for tourists who travel to our region to enjoy the scenery and outdoor activities available within a short drive. With that in mind, Kayla Carter, the Outdoor Development Manager for the Northeast Tennessee Economic Partnership said the inaugural Meet the Mountains Festival – which was inspired by the annual GO Outside Festival in Roanoke – will strive to showcase the entire region.
“I think outdoor recreation and tourism go hand-in-hand,” Carter said. “I think this will definitely increase awareness of our outdoor assets for visitors who come into town for our festival.”
For those who may wonder what kind of return on investment can be expected by marketing the great outdoors, a recent study done by the Outdoor Industry Association shows that outdoor recreation is a booming business. Americans spend $887 billion annually on outdoor recreation, more than we spend on pharmaceuticals ($466 billion) and fuel ($304 billion) combined.
In Tennessee alone, 59 percent of the state’s residents participate in outdoor recreation each year. Those recreational activities generate $21.6 billion in consumer spending, which in turn provides 188,000 jobs in the state.
The phrase “outdoor recreation” encompasses a wide variety of activities that range from hunting and fishing to disc golf and athletics. Carter said the decision to divide the Meet the Mountain Festival into the Air, Water and Land zones came about as much for the sanity of the event planners as anything.
“The outdoor recreation industry is huge,” she said. “There are over 900 user groups you could consider in the outdoor recreation industry.”
Aside from marketing our region to potential tourists, the Meet the Mountain Festival also offers a sales pitch to young professionals who are either native to our region or attending school here. By highlighting the outdoor opportunities around them, Carter is hopeful some of the best and brightest young residents in our region will make the decision to stay and put their skills to work to enrich the local economy.
“Another big piece of this is talent attraction and retention, especially for (NeTREP),” Carter said. “That’s a huge priority for us. We want to retain the talent we have coming out of Milligan, ETSU and Northeast State, but we also need to attract new talent to the area to be able to help our current and future employers.”