Nationwide, participation in the active-outdoor-recreation industry, essentially those activities that are limited to strictly human-powered locomotion, pumps an astonishing $730 billion into the U.S. economy annually.
Broken down into even greater detail, the active outdoor recreation industry further supports nearly 6.5 million jobs across the United States and generates $88 billion in annual state and national tax revenue.
The findings, released last Friday against the appropriate backdrop of the 2006 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City, are just a small slice of a much larger in-depth study conducted recently that looked into the full economic impacts of the active-outdoor-recreation industry. Florida-based research firm Southwick Associates conducted the first-of-its-kind study.
Activities included in the study were broken down by the following categories: bicycling, camping, fishing, hunting, paddling, snow sports, trail and wildlife viewing.
The study's figures were broken down even further into nine separate regions across the United States. Region 8, which includes the states of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Montana, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming, ranked near the top with $61 billion in annual economic contribution from the active-outdoor-recreation industry. The states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington topped the list with $81 billion in annual contribution.
The study's findings illustrate something many people already know about the industry but haven't had the figures to corroborate, Frank Hugelmeyer, the president of the Outdoor Industry Association said during the market's press conference last Friday.
"You can say we're an important part of the economy," Hugelmeyer said.
The semiannual Outdoor Retailer show is the largest tradeshow nationally for the outdoor gear industry and brings together top manufacturers, retailers, industry advocates and media to conduct the business of the recreational outdoors. Last week's exposition marked the 25th annual running of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.
In relative terms, the $730 billion the active-outdoor-recreation industry funnels into the U.S. economy annually is astounding, said the study's chief researcher, Rob Southwick.
To better illustrate it, Southwick noted that $730 billion is more than 400 times greater than the amount of money earned by the movie "Titanic," the top grossing movie of all time. The figure is also equivalent to 44 percent of the total money Americans spend annually on food, he said.
Explaining the process they used to come up with the figures, Southwick noted that, of the $730 billion, $441 billion is related to an indirect ripple effect where suppliers and employees of the industry further circulate money throughout the economy.
"That money is spent and re-spent," he said.
A loss of the 6.5 million jobs associated with the active outdoor recreation industry would quickly cripple the nation's economy.
"The (U.S.) economy would contract and that would necessitate job layoffs," Southwick said.
Simply put, supporting the U.S. economy can be fun. "If you're concerned about the economic health of the country, go play," he said.
To coincide with their release of the study, the Outdoor Industry Foundation invited several notable dignitaries to speak during the Friday press conference. These included former Idaho Gov. and current U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and the CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), Sally Jewell.
Perhaps most significantly for Kempthorne, the study underscores the important role his agency has in supporting active outdoor recreation.
"It (the active-outdoor-recreation industry) is everywhere in the fiber of our economy," Kempthorne said. "Now we can put some numbers to this industry."
Asked at several points during Friday's well-attended press conference how he thought the study's findings should help guide the land management policies of the agency he oversees, Kempthorne stressed the need for collaboration. Lands managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior cover a full one-fifth of the nation and support a diverse set of recreational and extractive uses, Kempthorne noted.
Tradeoffs may need to be made when trying to balance the needs of motorized and non-motorized users. "We do have to listen. It is a public process," Kempthorne said.
Kempthorne said failing to do so could put the health and integrity of the nation's public lands in jeopardy.
"We want to make sure it is available in the future," he said.
The nation's public lands play an important role in the health of all Americans, he said. At a time when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the trend lines for chronic illnesses are accelerating, promoting public lands and the activities they're capable of supporting is critical.
"More and more, we're becoming less and less active," Kempthorne said. "That's a statistic that matters."
Idaho's former governor said Americans are fortunate to have been born into a country with such a magnificent diversity of landscapes.
"What a wonderful way to be active," he said.
The significance of the study's findings weren't lost on Blair Clark, senior vice-president of marketing and sales for Ketchum-based Smith Sport Optics and a recent addition to the board of the Outdoor Industry Association. From Thursday through Sunday of last week, Clark and other Smith representatives were kept busy meeting with various retailers at their booth at the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow.
In terms of the economy of Ketchum and surrounding areas, the outdoor recreation industry may play an even greater role than it does nationally, Clark said.
"Clearly, tourism is the biggest part of Ketchum's economy," he said. "You don't come to Ketchum for indoor activities, or if you do, you're missing out."
For the success of companies like Smith, the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow plays a critical role, Clark said. Of the 10 different tradeshows they attend annually, the semiannual Outdoor Retailer is among the two most important.
"Our business would dwindle to nothing without the Outdoor Retailer," Clark said.
Smith wasn't the only Wood River Valley company to attend last week's Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, either. Other exhibitors included Ketchum-based outdoor clothing companies Scottevest and Icebreaker, as well as Hailey-based MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology).
The Active Outdoor Recreation Economy
An economic study released by the Outdoor Industry Foundation last Friday in Salt Lake City underscores the important role the active-outdoor-recreation industry plays in the nation's economy. Figures from the study indicate the industry:
• Generates $289 billion annually just in retail sales and services across the U.S.
• Touches over 8 percent of America's personal consumption expenditures. This equals more than $1 in every $12 circulating in the economy.
• Supports the jobs of one in every 20 Americans.
• More Americans camp than play basketball.
• More Americans paddle (kayak, canoe and raft) than play soccer.
• The number of Americans who participate in bicycling is double the population of Canada.
• More than three-quarters of Americans participate in active outdoor recreation each year.
• The active outdoor recreation economy employs five times more Americans than Wal-Mart, the world's largest private employer.
• Federal tax revenue generated by the active-outdoor-recreation economy ($48.5 billion) would cover the budget of the U.S. Department of Interior ($16.4 billion) for nearly three years.