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Policy & Government

Government confirms outdoor recreation is a large and growing percentage of U.S. economy

Data puts the outdoor industry economy at 2.2 percent of GDP and growing faster than the overall U.S. economy.

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We all know that the outdoor recreation is an economic powerhouse. And on Thursday, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) recognized that too. A final report shows that it accounts for 2.2 percent ($412 billion) of the 2016 U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

The final report also found that outdoor recreation contributes more than $734 billion to total U.S. gross output—the total value of domestic goods and service produced by an industry.

Amy Roberts, executive director at Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), said the numbers show that outdoor industry is grew faster at 1.7 percent in 2016 than the economy as a whole, which grew 1.6 percent.

“OIA’s analysis shows that Americans spend $887 billion annually recreating outside,” Roberts said in a news release. “All of this data underscores that outdoor recreation is a significant and growing contributor to the U.S. economy—we strongly encourage members of Congress to invest in public lands as these numbers demonstrate the return on investment.”

The figure places the outdoor industry on the same level as other industries, if not larger. It’s heftier than oil and gas extraction (1.4 percent) and agriculture (1 percent). 

“The government’s data confirms what many of us in the industry have known for quite some time,” REI Co-op CEO and President Jerry Stritzke said in the news release. “Millions of Americans love to get outside and enjoy time with friends and family, adventuring right out their back doors or off into our iconic wild places. This is something that unites us as a nation. Whether they live in a city, suburb or small rural town, Americans cherish their outdoor experiences. It’s also very good for the economy. We appreciate the work of the Commerce Department and, in particular, the Bureau of Economic Analysis on this analysis and are committed to helping assure the data is kept fresh into the future.”

The study is the result of the unanimous passage of the Outdoor Recreation and Economic Impact Act of 2016, signed by President Barack Obama. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) authored the REC Act to show Congress that outdoor recreation is a major economic driver.

“This report provides important data for Congress and will be extremely useful as I work to gain support for initiatives that highlight the importance of our beautiful outdoors,” Gardner said. 

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) agreed.

“New Hampshire draws visitors from all over the world, which is why expanding outdoor recreation and protecting our environment is fundamental to our tourism industry,” she said. “My bipartisan legislation with Senator Gardner, which was signed into law, will ensure that we continue to understand the economic impact of outdoor recreation, and I’ll continue to prioritize legislation in Congress to build on that effort.”

OIA is now asking Congress to provide funding for the BEA to product the report annually, and to break down data by region.