Call of the Wild

Rob Southwick returned to Gainesville for a UF football game some 25 years ago when he ran into economics professor Dr. Roger Blair. Southwick, who studies the economic impact of the hunting, fishing and wildlife conservation industries, was torn between remaining with his startup business or returning to graduate school.

Southwick received some blunt, but great advice.

“He said, ‘Don’t go to grad school yet. Wait until the money runs out,’” Southwick said.

Southwick (BSBA ’98) followed Dr. Blair’s advice, and has never looked back. Combining his love for the outdoors with filling a substantial void in the marketplace, Southwick has made a name for himself in a niche industry.

According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. hunters—approximately 13.7 million Americans—spent $38.3 billion on equipment, licenses, travel costs and other related services. Combine that figure with salaries and wages from jobs created, and state, local and federal taxes, the overall economic output of the outdoors industry is almost $87 billion.

This is where Southwick and his firm, Southwick Associates, make a significant impact. They provide their clients—both in the public and private sector—a detailed assessment of the economic impact and value of outdoor recreation in their area.

One example of Southwick’s work took place in Cabo San Lucas, a Mexican resort town on the Baja peninsula. Southwick said plans were underway to open conservation areas along the coast to long line commercial fishing, threatening the area’s world class marlin fishing. When Southwick and his staff analyzed the economics associated with sport fishing—including equipment, boat rental, food and lodging—those plans quickly changed.

“In sport fishing—to catch one fish—there’s an economic impact of thousands of dollars per fish,” said Southwick, 48. “And maybe they throw that fish back to be caught again. For commercial [fishing], it’s about $200, and you won’t catch that fish again.”

Although the thorough analysis and the economic bottom line are what clients are most interested in, Southwick said the end result is somewhat ancillary. That his company is simply involved in this growing industry is the key.

“Fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities were just viewed as something to do once the real work day was over,” Southwick said. “No one ever looked at this industry as a business.”

“It’s not analyzing the raw data that produces the value. It’s producing the raw data that is the value in this business.”

While most of his fellow economics majors were entering banking, Southwick said that field just wasn’t for him. He spent almost three years as an economist for the Sport Fishing Institute in Washington, D.C., before starting Southwick Associates in 1990 at the age of 23.

Although the hunting, fishing and wildlife industry did not receive the attention it’s receiving now, it still took time for Southwick’s company to gain some traction. Southwick said it took about eight to 10 years before he believed the company was truly established.

“I only made $6,000 my first year,” Southwick said. “I was still able to live off it.”

Southwick attributes much of his success to his time at Warrington. He said professors like Dr. Blair, Dr. David Denslow and Dr. Richard Lutz made incredible impacts on him, and the lessons they taught he still uses today.

“Having to write those research papers and talk to so many people, that really helped,” Southwick said. “That’s what I do now.”