Answer: When it represents hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs.
A new report released Nov. 11 by the Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates in 2019, the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 2.1% of the nation’s gross domestic product, the measure of the market value for all goods and services produced in a specific time period.
Outdoor recreation contributed $459.8 billion to the nation’s overall economy from $788 billion of gross output. It accounts for 5.2 million U.S. jobs.
The statistics show the outdoor recreation sector grew by 1.3%, nearly keeping pace with the growth of the nation’s economy, which was 2.2% between 2018 and 2019.
A small part
Jayson Arman is a St. Lucie County-based fishing guide who is just one small part of a huge industry. He doesn’t own a boat, but when he is hired by customers who find him at Billy Bones Bait and Tackle in Port St. Lucie, he will take them on fishing adventures in places along the Indian River Lagoon or Treasure Coast beaches that can be reached on foot.
Arman loves what he does.
“Every day is a new day, every person is a new person. The unpredictability of fishing is what makes it addicting,” said Arman, whose business is That’s R Man Land-based Fishing Charters.
“I just gone done getting out of the water trying to fish for trout and had 6-foot-long tarpon blowing up mullet right in front of us,” Arman said before 8 a.m. Thursday. “That’s why I love being a fishing guide.”
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Each year, Arman runs a holiday special up until Christmas Eve, charging $100 for two people to fish. Anglers have one year to use the gift certificate, can choose any of four locations to fish and Arman supplies all the tackle.
The outdoor recreation economy is made up largely of small business owners eking out a living.
Boating and fishing
The five largest segments of the outdoor recreation economy in 2019 were:
Boating and fishing — $23.6 billion
RV’ing — $18.6 billion
Hunting/shooting/trapping — $9.4 billion
Motorcycling/ATV’ing — $9.2 billion
Equestrian — $8.6 billion
Snow activities accounted for $6.3 billion and was the largest activity contributing to the economies of Colorado ($1.7 billion), Utah ($666.3 million), Vermont ($286.9 million) and Wyoming ($147.5 million).
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But boating and fishing dominated the outdoor recreation economy. According to the report, it was the largest activity in 30 states and the second-largest activity in 11 others. The top three states contributing boating and fishing dollars to the nation’s economy were:
Florida — $3.3 billion
California — $2 billion
Texas — $1.7 billion
Based on how many Americans engaged in boating and fishing during the coronavirus pandemic, industry experts believe the 2020 numbers — which will be reported in November 2021 — will be even higher.
“Boating and fishing are seeing significant retail growth this year; we’re seeing a lot of spending in retail activity,” National Marine Manufacturers Association President Frank Hugelmeyer said during a webinar Tuesday to discuss the latest numbers. “The economic output is almost certain to grow in 2020 during COVID.”
Manufacturers, however, had interruptions in their production schedules because of the virus. Some boatbuilders, and suppliers of parts for them, closed temporarily to install safety equipment, spacing and protective protocols before reopening. Other manufacturers were forced to close briefly as the virus affected workers.
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“When we closed March 24, we weren’t sure what we were going to come back to,” said Bruce Thompson, president of Pursuit Boats, which employs about 500 people at its Fort Pierce boatbuilding plant. “I don’t think anybody knew what we were facing. We knew we had to keep going somehow or another.”
The supply chain and manufacturers that depend on them are up and running now, industry leaders report. But there is a lag in inventory as demand remains high.
“There’s a 10% increase in retail sales that’s been trending out this year, but we’re 20% down in manufacturing output because of shutdowns and supply chain shortages,” Hugelmeyer said. “That’s not just boating. That’s across RV and other motorized sectors as well — anybody who’s trying to create an end product and has an input has dealt with supply chain disruption. It’s very difficult to see when that’s going to balance out, it’s going to be difficult to forecast because of that discrepancy we’re seeing.”
These 50 states
The data also showed the outdoor recreation economy was spread across the country, not just isolated in pockets or along the coastlines.
“It’s really that breadth of contributions that is especially notable,” Dirk van Duym of the Bureau of Economic Analysis said during Tuesday’s webinar. “I also think we see the contribution across states; it’s not only in the states that people typically think of. It’s helping economies across the country from that supply chain perspective.”
For example, based on each state’s gross domestic product (GDP), outdoor recreation was a significant contributor to these economies:
Hawaii — 5.8%
Vermont — 5.2%
Montana — 4.7%
Florida — 4.4%
Maine and Wyoming — 4.2%
Based on these numbers, it’s a good thing the Great American Outdoors Act was passed and signed by President Donald Trump in August.
The legislation, backed by hundreds of outdoor industry businesses, trade organizations and retailers, established the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund with $9.5 billion over the next five years to address priority repairs and maintenance of our public lands and waters. The fund will not use taxpayer money.
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It also mandates $900 million per year in non-taxpayer funds to be deposited into the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to be spent only to protect public land, water and recreation areas for all Americans.
So the next time you hop on your boat for an outing with friends on a local waterway or cast a line with family to catch a fish and make a memory, remember that it’s more than just a hobby.
Boating, fishing and enjoying the outdoors is an essential part of a robust national economy.
Ed Killer is TCPalm’s outdoors writer. To interact with Ed, friend him on Facebook at Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Outdoor recreation is more than fishing and boating. It’s a $788 billion business