Outdoor recreation economy continues record-breaking growth, especially in the Mountain West

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New data by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis shows the massive impact of outdoor recreation on the Mountain West economy.

Statewide, outdoor recreation generated gross economic output of $862 billion last year, with a GDP of $454 billion and 4.5 million jobs. Included in these numbers are activities such as bicycling and boating, but also equipment manufacturing, entertainment and construction.

The industry as a whole contributes more to US gross domestic product than agriculture, mining, or computer manufacturing. Also, it’s a sector that grew threefold the general economy. Outdoor recreation jobs far outpaced general attitudes last year.

Screenshot courtesy of US Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Mike Happe, CEO of RV maker Winnebago Industries, said the pandemic has brought a surge in new customers, reflecting record-breaking growth in activities like camping and boating over the past year.

“They were looking for a sense of normalization and control. They wanted to spend newfound free time with family and friends and were definitely looking for a sense of adventure,” he said.

In the western mountains, outdoor recreation is a particularly large slice of the region’s economic pie. It contributes 4.4 percent of Montana’s GDP — the largest share in the nation. Between 2020 and 2021, jobs in the industry increased by more than 15 percent in most states in the region.

Screenshot courtesy of US Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Happe said this data is a strong argument that governments should invest more in marketing and infrastructure at popular outdoor spots, particularly because he doesn’t see growth slowing anytime soon.

“Eighty-six percent of these first-time buyers in 2021 say their RV experience meets or exceeds their expectations, which certainly bodes well for our industry going forward in terms of repeat purchase intent and continued participation,” Happe said.

Retail accounts for about a quarter of the outdoor leisure economy – the largest share. Arts, entertainment, recreation, lodging and gastronomy make up the second largest industry group. Manufacturing is third.

This story was produced by Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliated stations throughout the region. The Mountain West News Bureau is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

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