When she got a call from the White House in mid-July, Susan Schurke faced a tough decision. Her Wintergreen Northern Wear firm had been selected to represent Minnesota at the national "Made in America" Product Showcase, the caller announced, and Susan and her husband Paul were invited to visit the White House July 22 and 23.
“We were very honored by the invite and proud to showcase our company, but this posed a dilemma,” said Susan. “We are deeply concerned about Trump’s rollbacks on protection for public lands like the Boundary Waters on which outdoor businesses like ours depend. So we worried whether participating in this White House media event might offend our customers who value public lands as much as we do. Or might this be our chance to highlight how much outdoor businesses and public lands contribute to our economy?”
They took the chance and they’re glad they did. “First and foremost, experiencing the White House with all its history and art was an incredible experience. So was visiting the owners of “Made in America” businesses from other states who share our commitment to home-grown quality. Most were family operations like ours that are as proud of their staff as we are, and some firms have been around for many generations.”
Where in the World are Sue & Paul? (Hint: front row, left -- little does Sue know that soon after this photo is taken she'll be speaking live on Fox News where she asks President Trump to protect America's public lands like our Boundary Waters on which outdoors businesses like hers depend. See link below!)
“We also wanted to ‘root' for our company and the outdoor industry that we're part of in a respectful way,” said Susan. In hopes of prompting conversations about the outdoor industry, they added a banner to their product display that read “America’s Public Lands Build Business.” In their press materials, they included February 2018 information from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) which concludes that while public lands are associated with other industries such as mining, logging & ranching, the key contribution public lands make to the economy is through outdoor recreation.
“The outdoor industry contributes nearly $400 billion annually to the national economy,” said Susan. According to BEA data, that figure is 2% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product which puts the outdoor industry ahead of farming, forestry & fishing (1%), and mining, oil and gas extraction (1.4%). "The outdoor industry which includes recreation, gear & clothing not only contributes much more to the national economy than either agriculture or extractive industries, it’s also growing much faster than the overall economy," she said.
Susan and Paul on the White House lawn, where the space capsule Orion and an F-35 fighter jet were displayed as part of the “Made in America” product showcase.
Susan’s Wintergreen display in the White House.
During the day-long showcase event, their booth was visited by various congresspeople, White House staffers and two cabinet members. “Both Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross stopped by our booth. Sec. Ross commented how much he appreciated the embroidered U.S. flag labels that we attach to each item of Wintergreen apparel and was pleased to learn that we make everything right in our store on the Mainstreet of Ely, MN."
“Vice President Pence visited a few booths," said Susan, "and we were able to sit right in front of the podium when President Trump addressed our group that afternoon on the theme of “It Matters Where Things are Made.”
Susan and Paul with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross who’s holding one of the tiny U.S. flags that are applied to Wintergreen’s “Made in American” clothing. "The public will no doubt be surprised at the economic importance of this industry." he said last February when he released the federal data that found the outdoor industry ranks largers than mining or agriculture and is growing faster.
Susan seated in front of President Trump at his talk in the White House executive dining room.
Apparently their public lands banner caused no offense, Susan said, because late in the day, after media groups had toured the booths, Fox News told Sue they had selected Wintergreen to be their featured “Made in America” firm on their national news story about the event. “They invited me to be interviewed live on air that evening and I realized this might be my chance to share our concerns about the importance of public lands for the outdoor industry,” she said.
During the 6 pm news show, when the Fox host asked what Susan would like the president to do for small businesses like hers, she said, “Our business is all about “Made in America” and has been inspired by the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness…so I would like to see President Trump give more attention to these public lands and protection for areas where the outdoor industry is growing so rapidly…Our customers purchase our clothing for two reasons: we are ‘Made in America’ and they are people who love the outdoors as much as we do. All of this is important – the environment, jobs, our economy.”
That news event also led to what Paul said was the “most surreal experience” of their 3-day Washington visit. While Paul was waiting in the Fox News “green room” for Susan to go on air, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC, one of the most powerful men in Washington, walked in to await his interview and joined Paul in viewing Sue’s interview on the Fox News monitor. “Your wife did a good job!” he said as the piece finished.
Though Susan & Paul never got to meet the President directly, they were told that he had toured the booths after hours, and so had Melania. In fact, White House staff told Sue that Melania had expressed particular interest in the white fleece Wintergreen anorak included in Sue’s display.
“It was a beautiful event and I’m so glad we went,” she said. “We took a risk but the response from our customers has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Susan in the Fox News “green room” with Sen. Lindsey Graham and Judge Jeanine Pirro, a close Trump associate and author of “Liars, Leakers and Liberals.”
Official photo provided by the White House of Susan and Paul with their Wintergreen display in the Green Room below a portrait of Ben Franklin, the oldest painting displayed in the building. (Photo courtesy of The White House)
Children of White House staffers with the Wintergreen display sled dog, whom they named “D.C.”
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