Taking a hike and other pursuits an economic driver

When Americans take a hike or engage in other increasingly popular outdoor recreational pursuits, one result is ringing cash registers, according to an analysis by a trade association for the outdoor industry.

Outdoor recreation accounts for $887 billion in annual consumer spending and supports 7.6 million jobs in the United States, according to report from the Outdoor Industry Association.

That means annual spending for outdoor recreational pursuits tops that for education, motor vehicles and pharmaceuticals. And more Americans are employed as part of the outdoor recreation economy than the food and beverage, construction and computer technology sectors.

“From the smallest rural towns to the most densely populated cities, outdoor recreation makes America stronger,” said Amy Roberts, executive director of the association. “This report makes clear that the outdoor recreation economy is not only thriving, but a powerful economic force that embodies the American spirit.”

Based in Boulder, the OIA represents a total of more than 1,200 manufacturers, suppliers and retailers.

Jerry Stritzke, chief executive officer of REI, an outdoor retailer that supported work on the report, said the industry has long been an important part of the economy. “We’re particularly proud to contribute 7.6 million good jobs. We’re happy to stand with the millions of Americans who look to the outdoors for their livelihoods and enjoyment.”

The report compares spending on various types of outdoor recreation and other activities. Americans spend $20 billion annually for gear for trail sports compared to $18 billion for home entertainment. They spend $14 billion annually on gear for water sports compared to $11 billion for movie tickets.

Along with consumer spending and employment, the report estimates outdoor recreation also generates $65.3 billion each year in federal tax revenue and a total of $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenues.

A law enacted by Congress last year requires that outdoor recreation be counted as part of gross domestic product, the broad measure of goods and services produced in the country.

The Outdoor Industry Association expects to follow up its national report with an analysis later this year of all 50 states and 435 congressional districts.

For 2012, however, the outdoor recreation industry was estimated to have accounted for $13.2 billion in consumer spending, 125,000 jobs and $4.2 billion in wages and salaries in Colorado. That’s in addition to a total of $994 million in state and local tax revenues.

Locally, the Grand Valley Outdoor Recreation Coalition estimates outdoor recreation businesses and tourism contribute more than $300 million annually to the economy and account for more than 2,000 jobs.