While COVID restrictions on businesses in Montana, earlier this year, hit few industries as hard as tourism, hospitality and recreation, it may be that Montana’s abundant outdoor recreation opportunities will provide deliverance for the state going forward.

Outdoor recreation was identified as the second most hard-hit business sector by The US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) last spring, but as people continue to try to deal with the impacts of COVID, it seems more and more are finding escape in outdoor activities and Montana has become one of the top destinations because of the opportunities it offers.

In a survey conducted by the Outdoor Industry Association’s trade magazine, as financial impacts begin to ease the options for outdoor recreation outweigh more conventional entertainment and vacation avenues, which remain limited. Said Lise Aangeenbrug of the Association,  “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.”

According to BEA, the outdoor recreation economy accounted for $459.8 billion of the country’s national gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, or 2.1%. Combined with new data from 2018, the burgeoning industry’s two-year contribution to the country’s economic output is $788 billion, supporting 5.2 million jobs.

Montana ranks among the highest of states for its outdoor recreation economy. It contributed $2.5 billion and employed 31,598 people, while making up 4.7% of Montana’s total economy. The state places third behind Hawaii (5.8%) and Vermont (5.2%) in the percentage its outdoor recreation sector contributes to its overall economy.

Montana is one of 11 states in which outdoor recreation accounted for 3.1% or more of a state’s economy.

In real gross output, compensation and employment grew faster in the outdoor recreation economy than the national economy as a whole, the report states. Average compensation per wage-and-salary job in Montana’s outdoor recreation industries was $36,506 in 2019, compared with $56,278 for all salaried jobs in the state.

According to the BEA, “Outdoor recreation activities fall into three general categories: conventional activities (including activities such as bicycling, boating, hiking, and hunting); other core activities (such as gardening and outdoor concerts); and supporting activities (such as construction, travel and tourism, local trips, and government expenditures).”

The activities will have spill-over into other sectors including sales of recreational equipment  and gear — from bikes and boats to bows and arrows.

The most popular attraction is boating and fishing, both nationally and in Montana. Nationally, the sport contributed  $23.6 billion in 2019 and in Montana, $164.5 million.

As any business selling recreational vehicles this summer will testify, the second most popular outdoor activity is RVing. Nationally it contributed $18.6 billion and in Montana it contributred $132.3 million.

For some states, such as Colorado, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming, snow activities rank the highest. Montana ranked 21st overall, with snow activities contributing $63.3 million.

Other value added by industry highlights for 2019 include:

* Retail trade made the second largest sector contribution to outdoor recreation nationally, accounting for $98.6 billion in current-dollar value added. At the state level, retail trade was the largest contributor to outdoor recreation in 13 states and the second largest contributor in 32 states.

* Manufacturing, the third largest sector, contributed $55.0 billion nationally to the outdoor recreation economy. At the state level, this sector was the largest contributor to the outdoor recreation economy in Texas and Indiana.


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