Study touts outdoor biz
By Mark Huffman, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
February 18, 2013
Outdoor recreation is a boost to the national economy and especially benefits Wyoming, according to figures released last week.
The Outdoor Industry Association, based in Colorado, found in an online survey that people spend about $646 billion annually on outdoor recreation and about $4.5 billion a year in Wyoming. The figures came from 2011-2012 national research that was recently supplemented with a state-by-state breakdown.
But Wyoming government figures show that while the recreation economy is big and lucrative as a sector, it’s not a great way for front-line employees to make a living.
The OIA survey was broad, said association spokesman Avery Stonich.
“We asked people how much they spent on recreation and where they spent it,” Stonich said. “If you buy a souvenir or put gas in your car, we counted that.”
OIA estimates that the money spent in Wyoming supports about 50,000 jobs that paid $1.4 billion in wages. The sector also paid state and local taxes estimated at $300 million over a year.
The survey found that 71 percent of Wyoming residents participate in some form of outdoor recreation, which Stonich said “is an indication of how important outdoor recreation is to your state” even beyond employment and income numbers.
The survey reported that Utah had the highest participation in outdoor recreation, with 82 percent of the state’s residents getting out for some air and exercise. Alaska was second, at 81 percent.
“One hundred and forty million Americans participate in outdoor recreation on a regular basis,” Stonich said. “It’s nearly 50 percent.”
Classified in the survey as outdoor recreation were biking, camping, fishing and hunting, motorcycling and off-roading, skiing and other snow sports, trail sports, boating, and wildlife viewing. Beyond direct outdoor activities that are easily identified, OIA said the outdoor industry has fallout benefits for lodging, retail, manufacturing, and the arts and entertainment businesses.
Frank Hugelmeyer, president of OIA, said the survey results are proof that “outdoor recreation is good for the American economy and our future,” linking preservation of the environment to a healthy economy.
“When we invest in the nation’s network of public lands and waters,” he said, “we are protecting and enhancing outdoor experiences for the benefit of the thousands of businesses, communities and families whose livelihoods depend on the outdoor recreation economy.”
The survey put national outdoor recreation employment at more than six million, with nearly $40 million in federal tax revenue and about the same amount in state and local tax income. At $646 billion in spending, outdoor recreation was ranked behind only outpatient health care and financial services and insurance in the amount of spending. Each of those sectors saw spending of slightly more than $800 billion a year in the report.
Around Wyoming, other states also got a boost from the sector. In Utah, the survey put spending at $12 billion, direct jobs at 122,000, and wages at $3.6 billion. Idaho spending was estimated at $6.3 billion, direct employment at 77,000 and wages at $1.8 billion. Montana was estimated to have $5.8 billion in spending, 64,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in wages.
That makes the outdoor recreation sector bigger proportionally in Wyoming, with its population of about 576,000. Montana has about a million people, Idaho about 1.6 million and Utah about 2.8 million.
Wyoming Department of Workforce Services statistics don’t break out outdoor recreation as an employment category. The closest category is “leisure and hospitality,” which provided a reported 36,600 jobs in September 2012. Separate categories that might benefit from outdoor recreation, such as retail trade and transportation, were reported separately.
Wyoming figures for the second quarter of 2012 put total wages from leisure businesses at just more than $135 million, or an average of just $308 a week.
In contrast, Wyoming’s mining sector provided 27,800 jobs that paid wages of more than $550 million, an average for each worker of $1,521 a week.
— Mike Koshmrl contributed to this story.