The outdoor recreation industry has a $730 billion impact on the national economy and, armed with that and other new data released Friday, outdoor enthusiasts say they have a powerful new tool to help shape public policy.
The Outdoor Industry Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by the Outdoor Industry Association trade group, released the first-ever large-scale study of the economic impact of the industry Friday at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City. The event included U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and outdoor industry leaders.
"The economic analysis provides a very vivid identification of how dynamic this industry is and the role that it is playing in promoting a healthier America by fostering active lifestyles and family-oriented activities," Kempthorne said. "The Department of the Interior provides the venue for outdoor recreation, and those lands themselves are becoming incubators in local communities, providing jobs, customers for local businesses and tax revenue for local governments."
The $730 billion annual contribution factors in the amount Americans spend on outdoor trips and gear, the companies that provide that gear and related services, and the companies that support them.
Which is no little pile of pennies. It's significant, said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association, and enough to give the industry a seat at the policymaking table.
"One of the things we've learned working with the state of Utah and Gov. Huntsman, in our dialogues over the last couple of years, is that the challenges in terms of the public lands conflicts are really because of the lack of information. That's one of the reasons why this report was started," Hugelmeyer said. "We see this report as a necessary tool to provide the information needed for both Western governors, Western councilmen, Western business leaders and policymakers to be able to see 'how can I build a balanced, healthy economy for my rural community?'
"This is part of a long process of getting a seat at the table."
The president of Recreation Equipment Inc., known as REI, said a report on the industry's economic impact is important when dealing with policymakers at all levels of government.
"There is an assumption that we're just granola-crunching environmentalists," Sally Jewell said. "We haven't made a good case about the business. When we bring it closer to home, it resonates."
Kempthorne, former governor of Idaho, said he "already had the respect (for the outdoor industry), even before these numbers" were released. But he said the report demonstrates that the industry is a "dynamic partner, with economic muscle."
The report also said the outdoor industry supports 6.5 million jobs, which amounts to one in 20 U.S. jobs, and generates about $88 billion in federal and state tax revenue while stimulating 8 percent of all consumer spending.
Eight outdoor activities were included under the "outdoor recreation" umbrella: bicycling, camping, fishing, hunting, paddling, snow sports, trail and wildlife viewing. Of those, camping proved dominant when measured in economic terms, supporting almost 2.5 million jobs and bringing in $36.4 billion in tax revenue.
Closer to home, the foundation reported that the economic impact on the eight-state Mountain Region (Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming) neared $61.5 billion. About 617,186 jobs can be linked to the outdoor industry, the report stated, along with $4.8 billion in gear-related sales and $8.9 billion in state and federal taxes.
The report combined data from 14,000 surveys conducted by Harris Interactive, 52,000 surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau at the behest of the Interior Department and other previously published reports, and adjusted the data for the general U.S. population.
Contributing: The Associated Press