In September, 2019, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released state-level data measuring how the outdoor recreation industry contributes to state Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The following charts highlight the ways in which the outdoor recreation economy contributes to national and state economies. These figures help to put outdoor recreation into context with other economically valuable industries. Read more about methods, definitions, and data sources.
Related: Testimony from Ray Rasker, Ph.D to the House Committee on Small Business during the October 30, 2019 hearing, Force of Nature: The Power of Small Businesses in America’s Recreational Infrastructure.
To provide context for outdoor recreation’s contribution to GDP, we compare it to the contribution of construction, a familiar industry that contributes to 4.5% of states’ GDP, on average. Outdoor recreation accounts for anywhere from 1.5% of state GDP in Connecticut to 6% of state GDP in Hawaii. In four states—Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont—the outdoor recreation economy exceeds construction.
On average, state GDP from outdoor recreation increased by 16.6% between 2012 and 2017 while total state GDP increased by 7.5%. In four states—Alaska, Connecticut, North Dakota, and Wyoming—outdoor recreation GDP grew while total GDP decreased.
Outdoor recreation contributes to all sectors of the U.S. economy. Accommodations and retail are the largest employers, followed by government, manufacturing, and transportation. Outdoor recreation supports more than tourism industries. For example, in Indiana where many RVs are built, one in three jobs supported by outdoor recreation are in manufacturing—more than any other sector.
“Nature-based” outdoor recreation—like hunting, camping, and ATV riding—occur in natural settings. “Other” outdoor recreation activities— like amusement parks, soccer, and music festivals—occur in urban or developed settings.
The activities that add the most value to the outdoor recreation economy depend on the state’s economic and natural resources. For example, in Vermont snowsports add the most value. In Florida, amusement parks contribute the most to the outdoor recreation economy.
Between 2012 and 2017, the contribution of nature-based recreation to state GDP grew by an average of 16.5%. Other recreation grew by an average of 14.9%. Idaho, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah had the largest growth—from 27% in Utah to 44% in Indiana.
Methods, Definitions, and Data Sources
These analyses are based on BEA’s 2017 prototype estimate of outdoor recreation’s contribution to national and state GDP. Dollar values are in terms of the contribution of outdoor recreation to national and state GDP, presented in inflation-adjusted, 2017 dollars.
BEA’s estimates of the contribution of outdoor recreation are in terms of its contribution to Gross Domestic Product. GDP is defined as the market value of goods and services produced within the U.S. and consists four components: consumer spending, plus business investment on fixed assets, plus government spending, plus the value of net exports (exports minus imports).
BEA’s Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA) provides an estimate of the outdoor recreation economy’s contribution to national and state GDP. BEA also provides estimates in terms of gross output, compensation, and employment estimates for the outdoor recreation economy. BEA’s ORSA estimates do not include travel-related expenses for trips within 50 miles from a consumer’s home. Read more about BEA’s ORSA methodology.
BEA defines outdoor recreation as “conventional” and “other.” “Conventional outdoor recreation” is defined by BEA as “all recreational activities undertaken for pleasure that generally involve some level of intentional physical exertion and occur in nature-based environments outdoors.” In this report we have relabeled this category as “nature-based.” These are activities that in general occur in nature-based environments, and include boating, climbing, camping, hunting, fishing, skiing and others. “Other recreation” consists of activities that tend to occur in urban or developed settings. It consists of activities that take place in amusement parks, sports fields, game areas (including golf and tennis), and in the form of guided or outfitted travel.
Employment estimates are based on the 2012 North American Classification System (NAICS) and presented as the jobs per sector associated with the production of products and services that are part of outdoor recreation. Employment figures consist of full-time, part-time, and temporary wage-and-salary jobs where the workers are engaged in the production of outdoor recreation goods and services and does not include the self-employed.
Outdoor recreation’s contribution to national and state GDP from: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA), U.S. and Prototypes for States. 2017.
Construction contribution to GDP and GDP growth rates are from: BEA, Regional Data. Annual Gross Domestic Product by State. 2017.