New Outdoor Industry Data Show The Power Of The Recreation Economy In Every State

By Jessica Goad

The outdoor recreation economy is big business in America. Data released today by the Outdoor Industry Association show the fiscal impacts of recreation in all 50 states, from consumer spending to direct jobs to wages and salaries. The top five states for consumer spending on outdoor recreation are: California ($85.4 billion), Florida ($38.3 billion), New York ($33.8 billion), Texas ($28.7 billion), and Georgia ($23.3 billion).

Additionally, every state in the union benefits from between 28,000 direct jobs (North Dakota) to 732,000 direct jobs (California) in the industry.

In total, outdoor recreation provides $646 billion in economic impacts and 6.1 million direct jobs every year (three times that of the oil and gas industry). These data incorporate the various sectors the outdoor recreation industry relies on, including manufacturing, retail and sales, transportation and warehousing, and accommodation and services near outdoor recreation sites.

A number of western state legislatures are attempting to “reclaim” federal public lands in order to exploit their resources more easily. But Frank Hugelmeyer, CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association, noted that for the industry’s economic influence to increase, political leaders must balance the use of public lands for energy while implementing policies that protect them:

Outdoor recreation is good for the American economy and our future. When we invest in the nation’s network of public lands and waters, we are protecting and enhancing outdoor experiences for the benefit of the thousands of businesses, communities and families whose livelihoods depends on the outdoor recreation economy.

More than 140 million Americans participate in some sort of outdoor activity every year. While the value of such recreation has long been suspected, only in the last several years has it actually been quantified. As Greg Hanscom writes in Grist:

After decades of being blown off as dirty hippie backpacker types, [environmentalists] can finally declare, with a straight face and data to back them up, that protecting the public lands from oil and gas drilling and other ecological insults is not just the right thing to do — it’s also good for business.

The release of today’s data is also notable because just last week, President Obama nominated Sally Jewell, CEO of outdoor retailer REI, to be his new Secretary of the Interior. Jewell has been an impassioned advocate for the value of this industry, and many expect her to continue to make the business case for conservation when she takes the reins of the Interior Department.

Making strides on permanently protecting public lands will be an important priority for both Congress and the administration over the next few years, especially in the midst of our current energy boom. The Center for American Progress recently released data showing the Obama administration has leased 2.5 more acres to oil and gas companies than it has permanently protected.

The economic case for putting energy and conservation on equal ground has never been clearer, as data like those released today show.

Jessica Goad is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.