Bringing the Economy Home

Outdoor Recreation An “Overlooked Economic Giant”

Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images

The pull of the great outdoors generates billions for the economy, according to a recent report.

Americans spent far more on outdoor recreation last year than they did on pharmaceuticals.  That’s one finding of a report released this weekend that highlights the economic impact of outdoor recreation nationally and in the West.

U.S. spending on outdoor recreation exceeded $645 billion last year, the report says.  By comparison, spending on pharmaceuticals totaled $331 billion, and spending on motor vehicles and parts totaled $340 billion.

Of that $645 billion total, 40 percent of the spending — more than $255 billion — was in Western states.  It generated more than $15 billion in state and local tax revenue for the region, the report says, and 2.3 million jobs.

How is that calculated, and what’s included in all of that spending?

Since the report is a collaboration between the Outdoor Industry Association and the Western Governors’ Association, among others, it takes a broad view of the industry’s economic impact.  As the report says, this isn’t just about the cost of a sleeping bag and campsite fees.  It “includes the design, development, marketing and manufacturing of gear – such as hiking boots, rifles, fishing rods, water skis, camping gear, off-highway vehicles and more – as well as the expenditures for going on a trip to use that equipment – such as gas, lodging, hunting or fishing guides, and park passes.”

The Idaho Division of Tourism doesn’t track the economic impact of outdoor recreation in the state — specific studies of that sort are cost-prohibitive, Administrator Karen Ballard says.  That said, a 2008 study of Idaho tourism shows that most visits to Idaho that year were for leisure, and spending on general recreation totaled more than $350 million.

The information released at the Western Governors’ Association meeting is a summary report.  The full report is due out June 20.


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