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Outdoor recreation industries impact U.S. economy

By Brianna Liestman

The Outdoor Industry Association recently released its report, “The Outdoor Recreation Economy,” which highlights the economic impact of the many outdoor recreation industries in the U.S.

“The outdoor industry is more than just fun. It’s more than just something people do. It’s something that employs millions of Americans, it provides billions in tax dollars and spending, and if anything it brings communities together,” said James Rein, manager of market & consumer insights for the OIA. “It helps to unite people beyond political lines to stand up for other great aspects of America. I don’t know if there’s a lot of other industries that can say that … we’re pretty bipartisan. Just as many Democrats and Republicans hike and camp, which is a pretty awesome thing to help unite people.”

According to the 2017 report, the outdoor recreation industry contributes $887 billion in consumer spending annually, provides 7.6 million jobs, generates $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue.

“You saw during the recession that when things get harder and times get tough, more people generally turn to the outdoors. The outdoors are free places to play,” said Rein, “and it’s something you can involve the whole family in on a relatively low cost.”

The report, last released in 2012, is the last of its kind to be created by the OIA, Thanks to the Outdoor REC Act signed into law by former President Barack Obama on Dec. 8, 2016, the outdoor recreation economic impact will be counted in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product and will be quantified in an annual report to be conducted by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The OIA will provide assistance to the BEA in how to approach the report, which they expect will be available at the end of 2018.

“I think it’s great for everybody because it puts it into a neutral party’s hands. It takes any debate away from [the report],” said Rein. 

Using the data to promote the industry

The OIA identified three things policymakers must do to protect outdoor recreation industries: Protect America’s lands and waters, the assets that are the foundation of the outdoor recreation economy; invest in local and federal recreation infrastructure and programs to ensure all Americans have access to public lands and waters; and promote outdoor recreation as part of community and public health policy and programming.

Rein said the attack on public lands should be of concern to outdoor recreation industries. However, the OIA report allows industry professionals and associations to be armed with data that allows them to fight for those lands’ protection. In July, the association will release state numbers and at the end of the year will release numbers by congressional districts.

“Those figures are really going to empower local retailers, small associations [and] clubs … to speak with their local officials and sit down and show up to local hearings and discussions,” said Rein, “which is data they otherwise wouldn’t maybe be able to put together on their own or to show their power – along with their other manufacturers and businesses – to say they make up this big part of your local economy and OIA has provided the data, the background to tell you about it.”

Rein added that the marine industry should be working together – whether it’s powerboats, sailboats or kayaks and paddleboards – to fight for public lands and better representation in local, state and national budgets. It has been successful for the hiking and biking industries who, instead of fighting over customers who are using public trails, are banding together to preserve access to those lands.

“When you combine your efforts, you’re able to have a lot greater impact,” he said. “We’re way stronger than when we’re pushing back on each other, whether it’s access rights for different groups [or something else]. It’s a lot easier to get our message across when we stand together.”

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