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In a year disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, the outdoors have provided respite for many. A recent survey revealed just how valuable the industry that serves the outdoors is to the U.S. economy.

According to data released yesterday, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis revealed outdoor recreation economy accounted for 2.1% of gross domestic product for the country in 2019. The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition of outdoor recreation trade associations and organizations, stated this accounts for $788 billion in gross output and supports 5.2 million jobs.

“This year’s data on the impact of the outdoor recreation economy is reaffirming for the entire outdoor recreation industry, particularly after the last few months we have all had,” Outdoor Recreation Roundtable executive director Jessica Turner said in a statement. “The fact the industry generates $788 billion in output, comprises 2.1% of U.S. GDP and supports 5.2 million jobs is huge for the U.S. economy, rural and gateway communities and Americans looking for jobs or to start a career in a growing and powerful industry.”

Turner also made note of a major win for the outdoors in 2020: the signing of the Great American Outdoors Act in August. The act will allow for the spending of $900 million a year on the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as $1.9 billion annually on maintenance projects administered by the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education.

“This [data], combined with the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, bolsters the benefits of the outdoor recreation economy and our efforts to ensure all Americans have access to our public lands and waters,” Turner said.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data also revealed GDP for the outdoor recreation economy grew by 1.3% in 2019, outdoor recreation compensation increased 3.9% and employment increased 0.4%.

In terms of industry, the data showed that retail trade was the second largest sector in nominal value added at 21%, accounting for $98.6 billion. Also, data showed that retail trade was the largest contributor in 13 states and the second largest contributor in 32 states.

Retail trailed only the “arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services” sector, which accounted for $128.5 billion or 28% of the nominal value added in 2019.

Other industries mentioned in the data included manufacturing, which accounted for $55 billion (12%), and wholesale trade with $35.4 billion (8%).

“The BEA release of economic data comes at a time when the health and wellness benefits of recreation cannot be overstated. A recent poll showed 69% of Americans have gained a renewed appreciation for the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. People want to get outside for their physical and mental health. What’s more, they yearn for social connection, which they can find through safely distanced activities in neighborhood parks or national parks,” Outdoor Industry Association executive director Lise Aangeenbrug said in a statement. “The Outdoor Industry Association and our partners have and will continue to prioritize ways we can contribute to the economic, health and well-being benefits across the U.S. in rural and urban communities. Now more than ever, we need the outdoors.”

Although restrictions have relaxed nationwide and people are finding themselves more often now than ever in nature, the outdoor industry is still facing some hinderances. For instance, the biannual Outdoor Retailer trade show has cancelled the first in-person expo of 2021, which was scheduled for Jan. 27-29. Instead, it will be a fully online experience. “Continued developments have made it impossible to bring our community together safely and successfully in Denver,” Outdoor Retailer show director and SVP Marisa Nicholson wrote in an October email.

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