Once again, the government considered the outdoor recreation economy a significant part of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, this time breaking out statistics in each by state.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) put outdoor recreation at 2.2 percent, or $427.2 billion in 2017, outweighing mining, utilities, farming and ranching, and chemical products manufacturing. The report reaffirms the industry as an economic driver, following the first government report last year that counted it as 2.2 percent ($412 billion) of the 2016 GDP.

“Today’s release of state data is a significant step forward for the entire outdoor recreation industry,” said Jessica Wahl, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR). “This second full year of national data–together with prototype state-level numbers–proves that our industry is a driving economic force across the country. ORR will continue to work with Congress, federal agencies, state governments and others to ensure that everyone has access to our public lands and waters and that our nation’s outdoor infrastructure can sustain and grow healthy communities and healthy economies.”

For the first time, the BEA also released preliminary data on the outdoor recreation economy at the state level for all fifty states and the District of Columbia. The public is invited to submit comments on the prototype state statistics by emailing outdoorrecreation@bea.gov.

The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) played a huge role in leveraging its own data of the industry's impact—$887 billion—before the government's recognition. The organization helped pass the Outdoor REC Act, which led to the BEA's report. 

OIA's number are twice the size because it measured consumer spending on apparel and equipment manufactured in other countries. It also measured travel expenses and association recreation spending on close-to-home recreation. Both numbers are relevant even though methodologies differ, OIA said.

“The outdoor industry has always known it is a huge contributor to the national economy, this report brings new data to bear to underscore that fact–to the tune of outdoor recreation’s real GDP growing significantly faster than the U.S. economy,” said Amy Roberts, outgoing OIA executive director. “The icing on the cake is the new state by state analysis, which will be immensely helpful to lawmakers, communities and businesses in promoting outdoor recreation related activities and economic opportunities–the beneficial uses are endless and we look forward to our continued work with the [BEA] to enhance the analysis moving forward.”

Other highlights from the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account

  • Outdoor recreation contributes more than $778 billion to total U.S. gross output—the total value of domestic goods and service produced by an industry—and supports 5.2 million jobs.
  • Boating/fishing, RVing, motorcycling/ATVing, hunting/shooting/trapping and equestrian sports are the five largest conventional outdoor recreation activities—unsurprising since vehicles have a larger price tag than camping gear. Sixth in line is snow sports with with $5.6 billion in current-dollar value added. 
  • The top five states where outdoor recreation accounts for the largest percentage of total U.S. GDP are California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas—also the states with the highest population.
  • The retail trade and manufacturing sectors of the outdoor recreation economy each account for $95.7 billion of current-dollar value added and $51.7 billion, respectively.
  • Inflation-adjusted (real) GDP for the outdoor recreation economy grew by 3.9 percent in 2017, faster than the 2.4 percent growth of the overall U.S. economy.


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