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Ryan Zink, U.S. Secretary of Interior, was scheduled to speak but had to stay in Washington. Instead, he sent Rick May, his senior national adviser. Much like his boss, May is former military, a U.S. Navy SEAL captain. His job with the Interior: to be in charge of all outdoor activities from “archery to zipline,” he said.

That partnership also helped with housing at Rocky Mountain National Park. May introduced the superintendent of that national park, Darla Sidles, who sent a thank-you to the RV industry and especially Forest River. Forest River donated four Class A motorhomes to the park for staff housing.

There are more than 400 parks in the national parks system, and the response to the needs of that park are helping the Interior to create a template to apply to other parks for speedy upgrades. “We are not looking to philanthropy to solve all of our problems,” May said. “If the solution works for Rocky, we will have a way ahead and problems at other parks will be solved in a similar fashion.”

Zinke’s plan, which is about to be launched, is to divide the country into 13 unified, regional areas that are loosely based on watershed areas and in some cases state lines. These areas will also have recreation advisers, who will work with state recreation offices to accomplish both state and mutual recreational goals. Currently, only eight states have dedicated offices just to oversee recreation because they are such an economic driver, he pointed out, adding consumers spend $887 billion annual in recreation.

The KOA president said that campers don’t want to be completely “unplugged” — they still want their phone access. So upgrading technology at campgrounds is a must. KOA is also personalizing campers’ visits to their website. And adding voice command functionality is also in the plans.

“We need a singular voice to be able talk to Washington, to really move the meter. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Hugelmeyer said. “And I can tell you all of the other groups are all at the table. And it’s time for us to have a seat at the table.”

He added the largest sector in motorized outdoor recreation were the people sitting in the room. “We’re the dominant driver of the largest sector of the 15th largest industry in the country,” Hugelmeyer said. “Let that sink in for a second.”

“We also drive 4.3 million jobs. Over the average five years that they measured it, we grew at 4.4 percent,” he said. “That is a full percentage point over the entire GDP of the United States. … We are driving that growth that is outpacing the entire U.S. economy.”

As an example, Hugelmeyer pointed out the need to prioritize recreational access. Over the years there has been talk about how underfunded campgrounds are and how they are declining. “That’s because we were not organized,” Hugelmeyer said. “We were not saying we need more campgrounds.” He wants that to change.

He told the group barriers for private investment need to be removed. There’s never been a better time to make public investments. “It’s a time-proven path to be able to grow national park infrastructure and campground infrastructure around the country,” he said.

If the RV industry and the outdoor recreation industry can meet their customers where they are — microtarget them, that’s where the industry will see continued growth, he said. For 10 of the past 12 months, the local RV industry saw shipments of more than 40,000 RVs. RV Industry Association wants to help keep that trend going and growing.

Part of that is a new project for the RV group. They are taking ownership of kicking off the RV season with “RVX.” The first kickoff will take place in March 2019 with RVers heading to Salt Lake City, Utah. And March 12-14, 2019, RVIA will host an RV technician service challenge.

Other guest speakers at the breakfast included Sen. Joe Donnelly; Sen. Todd Young; U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, 2nd District; U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, 3rd District; Phil Ingrassia, president of RVDA; Pete McCown, president of the Community Foundation of Elkhart County; and Gregg Fore, partner in RVBusiness magazine.