How big is the outdoor recreation economy?

May 04, 2017

Kimberly Kinchen, business network writer


Photo courtesy of IMBA

The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) recently published the new Outdoor Recreation Economy report, and it should come as no surprise that the economic power of the industry is formidable. First, outdoor recreation generates millions of jobs—7.6 million jobs, or almost one million more jobs than computer technology, the next largest category. The eclectic scope of recreation-related jobs ranges from hydrogeologists to retail sales staff to product designers to guides, to name only a few.

As a whole, the outdoor recreation industry makes up one the largest sectors of the U.S. economy overall, generating annual consumer spending of $887 billion that in turn contributes $125 billion in federal, state, and local taxes. That's well more than consumer spending on pharmaceuticals ($466 billion) and motor vehicles and parts ($465 billion).

Those billions also produce less easily quantifiable returns to communities. When public lands are preserved and promoted for recreational use, they become a valuable asset that empowers surrounding communities to build sustainable economies. For example, when the languishing towns around Cuyuna, MN converted an abandoned iron mine into public land and then into a mountain biking trail system, the trails brought tourists, reinvigorating local businesses and spurring new ones. The trail system so enhanced the region's quality of life that employers began capitalizing on the trails as recruiting tool; community leaders credit it as the key to revitalizing their towns, attracting new generations of residents.

Another way recreation creates value: promoting health. When communities have access to outdoor recreation, physical activity is easier. Public health experts have shown that when cities and towns create biking infrastructure, riding increases while injuries decrease. This creates healthier communities and produces savings in health care spending.

You can read more here, or look at OIA's state-based reports here.

The OIA issues an Outdoor Recreation Economy report every five years. Thanks to the efforts of industry advocates, the federal government will publish Recreation's Economic Contribution (REC) statistics for the first time in 2018. This is due to the passage of the REC Act, which requires the federal government to account for the outdoor industry's contribution to U.S. Gross Domestic Product. This and other measures will provide additional, complementary data that demonstrates the strength of the outdoor recreation sector, and confirm its status as a significant economic contributor to the U.S. economy.

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