America’s Overlooked Economic Giant – Outdoor Recreation

A few weeks ago I was one of the 21,000+ attendees of the Outdoor Retailer Winter show in Salt Lake City.  The twice a year gathering where the marketers of outdoor gear and products (not including hunting / fishing) display their latest and greatest product offerings to outdoor retail buyers from across the globe.  It is clear that business in this category is vibrant and on a path to continued strong growth.  The movers and shakers in the outdoor industry are arguably poised to become the new rock stars of our culture – sorry web guys, move over.

Last week the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) released new data that quantifies just how large the economic impact of outdoor recreation is both nationally and on a state-by-state basis.  The numbers are sure to surprise even the most optimistic active lifestyle observer:

  • $646 billion spent by Americans on outdoor recreation
  • 141 million Americans who participate in outdoor activities
  • 6.1 million direct American jobs generated by outdoor recreation
  • $39.9 billion in federal tax revenue
  • $39.7 billion in state and local tax revenue

These numbers are even more impressive when measured against other industries:

  • 2.2 million jobs – oil and gas
  • 3.5 million jobs – education
  • 5.5 million jobs – construction
  • 6.1 million jobs – outdoor recreation

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011

These numbers only reflect the tangible and quantitative benefits of outdoor recreation.  The quality of life and health benefits that come to those people who participate in outdoor activities most likely outweigh the measureable economic benefits.  It is only common sense that Americans (especially youth) who engage in outdoor activity will be healthier both mentally and physically while also learning to respect and preserve our valuable natural resources.  Outdoor recreation is a true win-win proposition.

To ensure that the outdoor recreation industry continues to thrive will require that we manage and maintain the waters and trails of the millions of acres of public lands of our state and national park systems.  Last week President Obama chose a leader from the outdoor industry to serve as Secretary of the Interior.  Sally Jewell shares the passion for the outdoors with the vast majority of American’s who use the 500 million acres of public land in the Interior’s jurisdiction.

Sally Jewell has been a strong and accessible leader at the many Outdoor Industry events I have attended. Besides being an avid mountain climber, kayaker and snow sports enthusiast, Jewell is CEO of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) the highly successful (and profitable) retailer with 127 stores in 31 states.  And, prior to REI Jewell (a mechanical engineer by education) worked with Mobil Oil and spent 19 years in the banking industry.

I’m confident that Jewell will serve our country well.  She will stand up to the short term, fossil fuel profiteers with common sense thinking to manage and protect our valuable public lands.  Also, she will be out on the mountain serving as an avid evangelist, encouraging Americans to get outside.  These could be very good times for both the outdoors and those who work and enjoy their bounties.