WILLMAR -- A hunter's heart can be found in the great outdoors, usually right after he or she has left lots of greenbacks in the great indoors.
The average hunter in Minnesota will spend $783 each year on goods and services related to their heart's desire. With some 597,000 people hunting each year in Minnesota, it adds up to over $482 million for the state's economy, according to "Hunting Works for Minnesota."
The recently-launched advocacy group includes a long list of retailers, sports and conservation groups, and other organizations such as chambers of commerce across the state. The goal of the partnership is to promote the hunting and shooting sports, and to educate the public about their economic importance to the state.
Hunting has always been important to businesses throughout rural Minnesota, but perhaps never so much as during times like this, according to Cal Brink, executive director of the Marshall Chamber of Commerce. "It's more recession-proof than some things," said Brink.
Brink met up recently in Willmar with his counterpart Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, and Mike Witt, manager of the Runnings Fleet and Farm in Willmar, to promote the economic value of hunting in western Minnesota.
The color orange makes obvious the value of hunting to the economy in Marshall, according to Brink. Pheasant hunting continues to attract thousands of hunters to southwestern Minnesota, and every autumn the orange-vested hunters are easy to see as they patronize businesses ranging from motels to restaurants, according to Brink.
Businesses in Kandiyohi County see lots of orange- and camouflage-clad hunters as well, more so than many people might realize. Witt said the Running's store in Willmar recorded $84,000 in hunting and fishing license sales last year, and it is just one of many sites in the county where they can be purchased.
The Willmar store's sporting goods department is one of its most important, and makes possible 3.5 employee positions, said Witt.
It's hard to put a finger on exactly how big the economic bang provided by hunting and shooting sports is to Kandiyohi County, but Warner said the Chamber hears many anecdotal stories from businesses. He noted that the county's sporting goods stores are destination sites for hunters and anglers, and attract customers to many other stores as well.
And of course, hunting produces lots of spin-off activity for restaurants and motels. There's no guessing, either, how many dollars in property taxes the county collects from lands owned and managed primarily for hunting.
Along with the economic value, Warner noted that hunting is also part of a rich heritage that remains very important to the quality of life for residents.
And, it's something that virtually everybody can enjoy, added Brink.