Tech Talks With Joe: What is America’s Largest Economic Sector?


You read that right, trillion with a “t”. To really put it in perspective, I have a few questions for you. What is one of America’s largest, but unfamiliar, economic sectors? What industry’s GDP grew by 3.9%, faster than the 2.4% for the overall economy? What industry will support nearly 6 million jobs this year?

The answer to these questions is, the outdoor recreation industry, and Marquette, Michigan is at the epicenter of innovation within it.


Our mini-metropolis of 27,000 has been making waves in the world of travel and remote work, taking USA Today’s top 100 travel destination spots two years in a row. In fact, outdoor recreation is so ingrained in the culture of Marquette that Northern Michigan University has a whole degree program revolving around it.

Outdoor enthusiasts will understand why when visiting to take advantage of the 150 miles of singletrack trails, 24 miles of public lakeshore, a multitude of vistas, and year-round activities including hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, sailing, biking, cross country, and downhill skiing, snow-shoeing, horseback riding, rock climbing, surfing, wildlife watching, all-terrain vehicle exploring, and snowmobiling. No wonder big outdoor brands, like Salsa, make their way here to take hold of our creative talent and try out our trails.

While travel and adventure are a plus in the outdoor recreation industry what often gets left out of the conversation are product development and economic gain. Remember, day and overnight visitors to an area allow those that live in the community to reap economic benefits. These visitors buy meals and snacks, stay overnight in hotels and rentals, buy or rent specialized equipment, and pay for travel costs.

On that note, here’s another question for you. What industry has been enhanced by the pandemic and is expected to explode in the next few years? You guessed it, outdoor recreation. Given the extent of activities within the industry and auxiliary benefits, it’s easy to see why millions of outdoor recreation products exist and thousands are created yearly.


Here in Marquette, we like to consider ourselves forward-thinking and inclusive, especially in the outdoor space. That’s why innovation in outdoor products, especially for those with limited mobility are at the heart and soul of our mission at Innovate Marquette SmartZone (IMQT).

But this mission isn’t one exclusive to IMQT, the city of Marquette recently announced a groundbreaking, local initiative to build a fully inclusive playground right in our Lower Harbor called Kid’s Cove. Key components of the new playground will include a surface to minimize injury from falls as well as equipment that will allow an easier sight of the vision for guardians, parents, and caregivers. In addition, Kid’s Cove promotes the inclusion of play and learning through children of all abilities while enhancing the Marquette community.

We can’t speak of innovation in outdoor recreation without mentioning Brian, an IMQT client, and local patent agent who often assists local innovators and inventors in intellectual property management. He approached our organization with his innovative idea called the “HitchHatchet”. It’s a device that retrofits your vehicle’s ball hitch to make splitting wood accessible to those who may not have the ability to swing a heavy ax. Brian is in the process of negotiating a licensing agreement with a national brand in the outdoor recreation market.

My team and I, here at Innovate Marquette SmartZone welcome you to not just visit Marquette to play in the outdoor recreation space but to pay us a visit with innovative ideas within that may make it more attainable to all. Send us an email at

All the best,