You’ll never guess how big the outdoor recreation industry is? Give up? Well, that’s the problem. No one really knows how big it is, because that question has never been adequately studied. At best it’s been a guess, and that’s no good, because so many decisions affect the health of that industry.
Estimates put the yearly annual impact in the U.S. at $650 billion — approximately 4 percent of annual GDP — which makes it larger than the U.S. auto industry plus the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. It’s also estimated that 6.1 million jobs are related to what I’ll call “Big Outdoors.” It’s likely that number is even larger, since no one has ever accurately tallied the many things that comprise this multifaceted juggernaut.
Fortunately, we’ll have a more accurate assessment of this number thanks to two bills that sailed through the House and Senate. The fi rst, called the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2015 (S.2219), was a Senate bill cosponsored by Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). Its companion bill in the House of Representatives was HR.4665 (Outdoor REC Act of 2016), introduced by Donald Beyer (D-VA) and Dave Reichert (R-WA), and cosponsored by 12 Republican and 12 Democratic representatives. Both passed after minimal debate, with zero dissention and included no last-minute riders. Within a week, the Senate bill was signed into law by President Obama, in December. The law creates a mandate for agencies such as the departments of Commerce, Interior and Agriculture (to name a few) to produce a report within two years that details the economic effect of the outdoor industry, as it relates to GDP.
Why is this important? The engine that drives this massive industry is nature itself. And its attraction is predicated on giving outdoor enthusiasts clean water, land and air. Not many people would spend their vacation on a badly polluted river or lake or camp amid industrial waste. In Aesop fable-speak, one doesn’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg. It’s bad for business. And a pristine environment also supports American jobs such as those in the boatbuilding industry.
Economic information is a powerful tool organizations such as the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and the Water Sports Industry Association (WSIA) have used to successfully combat pending legislation that would restrict boat access in many locations. The industry’s effect on the economy and American jobs is an argument politicians seem to get.
The newly seated executive branch, led by President Trump, is a decidedly pro-business group, and there is concern the administration could dismantle many environmental protections or sell off or open up our many natural resources to consortiums from the private sector. It’s our hope that people in a position to alter the landscape will be good stewards of America’s greatest asset — if not for aesthetic reasons then because it’s good for the bottom line. And the first step is knowing what that number is.