The Economics Of Outdoor Recreation

When it comes to spending on outdoors recreation, it's hard to beat the hunters, anglers, RV enthusiasts and other outdoor lovers in Hawaii, Vermont, Montana, Florida, Wyoming and Maine.

Those six states lead the nation when it comes to the percentage of state gross domestic product generated by spending for outdoor recreation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

"Outdoor recreation activities fall into three general categories: conventional activities (including activities such as bicycling, boating, hiking, and hunting); other core activities (such as gardening and outdoor concerts); and supporting activities (such as construction, travel and tourism, local trips, and government expenditures)," the bureau explained Tuesday on its website.

Within those categories, the following stood out in 2019:

* Boating/fishing was the largest conventional activity for the nation as a whole at $23.6 billion in current-dollar value added. This was the largest conventional activity in 30 states and the District of Columbia and the second largest activity in 11 states. Florida ($3.3 billion), California ($2.0 billion), and Texas ($1.7 billion) were the largest contributors to U.S. value added.

* RVing was the second largest conventional activity nationally at $18.6 billion in current-dollar value added. This was the largest conventional activity in 10 states and the second largest in 22 states and the District of Columbia. The largest contributors were Indiana ($3.4 billion) and Ohio ($646.3 million).

* Snow activities was the largest conventional activity in Colorado ($1.7 billion), Utah ($666.3 million), Vermont ($286.9 million), and Wyoming ($147.5 million) in current-dollar value added. At the national level, snow activities was the sixth largest conventional activity at $6.3 billion.

Overall, in 2019 outdoor recreation comprised 2.1 percent of U.S. GDP, generating $788 billion in gross output and supporting 5.2 million jobs, the bureau reported.

That performance was applauded by those in the outdoor industry.

“This year’s data on the impact of the outdoor recreation economy are reaffirming for the entire outdoor recreation industry, particularly after the last few months we have all had,” said Jessica Turner, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. “The fact the industry generates $788 billion in output, comprises 2.1% of U.S. GDP and supports 5.2 million jobs is huge for the U.S economy, rural and gateway communities and Americans looking for jobs or to start a career in a growing and powerful industry. This, combined with the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, bolsters the benefits of the outdoor recreation economy and our efforts to ensure all Americans have access to our public lands and waters.”

At the Outdoor Industry Association, Lise Aangeenbrug had a bullish outlook on the sector's continued performance, in no small part due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The BEA release of economic data comes at a time when the health and wellness benefits of recreation cannot be overstated,” said Aangeenbrug. “A recent poll showed 69 percent of Americans have gained a renewed appreciation for the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. People want to get outside for their physical and mental health.

"What’s more, they yearn for social connection, which they can find through safely distanced activities in neighborhood parks or national parks," she added. "The Outdoor Industry Association and our partners have and will continue to prioritize ways we can contribute to the economic, health, and well-being benefits across the U.S. in rural and urban communities. Now more than ever, we need the outdoors.”

Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, agreed with Aangeenbrug.

"In many ways, the uptick in outdoor recreation activity during the pandemic only reinforces the findings in the 2018 and 2019 data, showing that recreational boating, fishing, and the broader outdoor recreation industry are sectors we should further invest in as we look towards recovery," he said. “This report provides invaluable insights about the role of the outdoor recreation industry in boosting regional economies all over the country and will be vitally important as we work with policymakers to provide meaningful investments and expand access to our nation's favorite pastimes."