Outdoor recreation economy is strong and getting stronger

Outdoor recreation economy is strong and getting stronger
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The outdoor recreation economy is strong and getting stronger. It is so strong, in fact, that it now accounts for more than 2 percent of our nation’s GDP and $887 billion in consumer spending annually.

From rural communities to suburbs and towering urban centers across the country, there is a renewed enthusiasm for getting outside. This enthusiasm, coupled with a strong presence of American outdoor product manufacturers and retailers, has resulted in the strongest outdoor industry sector this nation has ever seen. Much of that, of course, is thanks to the fundamental infrastructure that allows for access to recreation.


But “life outdoors” looks quite different in Phoenix from how it looks in Minneapolis. The recreation economy in 8,000-person McCook, Nebraska, is driven by seasonal quail and turkey hunting. Chattanooga’s recreation economy floats on the Tennessee River. And in Bentonville, Arkansas, of all places, the outdoor recreation economy is on a fast track thanks to the region’s investments in road bike and mountain bike infrastructure. In fact, northwest Arkansas’ top three riding destinations — which are interconnected by a single trail system — now host nearly as many cyclists per capita as San Francisco’s top three.


Whether it’s a national park or an urban greenway, public land and outdoor infrastructure are critical to a strong outdoor recreation economy. Last week, Outdoor Industry Association released Outdoor Recreation Economy reports for all 435 congressional districts. These reports are the first to capture the power of a vast multibillion-dollar economic engine in our local communities and across the nation. 

From Alabama’s 1st congressional district to Wyoming’s at-large district, these reports show that from rural towns to the most densely populated cities, outdoor recreation is a vital economic force that not only creates billions in spending and millions of good-paying American jobs, but also creates healthier communities, healthier economies and healthier people.

The outdoor industry sector is like so many others in this country that are fueled by the American dream. From mom-and-pop bait shops adjoining local reservoirs to national tent and backpack manufacturers, the outdoor recreation economy employs 7.6 million Americans and contributes $65.3 billion in annual tax revenue to federal coffers. Combine that with $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue, and it shows its vast economic impact. 

Beyond the dividend yields of the industry itself, it’s important to note that access to the outdoors is a recruitment and retention tool for employers who want to attract a healthy workforce. That’s why companies are choosing to locate in communities with strong outdoor infrastructure. Further, every dollar a state invests in public land conservation returns four dollars in revenue.

We are confident in saying that the state of the outdoor recreation economy is strong. And, with the continued advocacy of our membership and the voices of the millions of Americans we represent, we believe the outdoor recreation will continue to grow. 

Congressional action can ensure outdoor recreation will grow. Policymakers should adequately fund state and local parks and trails, which are the foundation of local recreation economies that bring communities together. 

Congress must support community planning that allows all citizens to go outside and recreate within 30 minutes of their homes. Policies should also encourage outdoor entrepreneurs and innovators to start recreational businesses.

Alex Boian is vice president of Government Affairs, Outdoor Industry Association.