Updated Economic data from US BEA on impact of Outdoor Recreation Industry shows industry gains, losses and overall economic impact

DENVER -- The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released its annual statistics for 2020 measuring the economic impact of the outdoor recreation economy for all 50 states, including Colorado, and the District of Columbia.
These new numbers show outdoor recreation generates $689 billion in economic output and creates 4.3 million jobs nationwide. The report, a snapshot in time of a challenging and uncertain year, includes national and state-level data.
This is the fourth consecutive year that BEA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has released government data on this critical industry sector. The 2020 report shows how the outdoor industry, despite all the challenges of widespread public lands and business closures, suspended travel, gathering restrictions and supply chain issues, continued to support communities across the country during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, the outdoor recreation economy was growing faster than the overall economy in every indicator and served as a resilient economic growth engine and job creator.
Nationwide, real gross output for the outdoor recreation economy decreased 17.4 percent in 2020, while outdoor recreation compensation decreased 12.5 percent and employment decreased 17.1 percent. 

In Colorado, outdoor recreation employment dropped from 149,000 in 2019 to 120,000 in 2020; a 19.5 percent decrease. Every state saw declines in outdoor recreation jobs in 2020, largely due to the BEA including jobs in the pandemic-ravaged service and hospitality industries. In terms of GDP, outdoor recreation contributed $9.6 billion to Colorado’s economy in 2020, down from the record $12.2 billion in 2019. 

Traditional outdoor activities such as fishing, sailing and snow activities saw a $410 million decrease in value-added to the state economy, but other outdoor recreation activities increased their impact on Colorado’s GDP. These include conventional activities like
Bicycling ($9.1M increase), Canoeing & kayaking ($754k increase), other water sports like SUP/rafting/waterskiing ( $13.4M increase), Climbing/hiking/camping ($3.2M), OHV sports ($17M), and RVing ($36M). 

“2020 was one of the toughest years in recent history. With so much isolation and loss, the outdoors was something we could all turn to in order to connect with our families and friends and maintain physical and mental health,” said Nathan Fey, Director of the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. “Outdoor recreation participation soared, especially close-to-home recreation. This increase highlighted two things; the importance of better access to the outdoors for everyone and the impact increased use has on the state’s outdoor recreation assets.”

Because of this increased use, the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office and the Colorado Tourism Office worked together to apply for and receive a $9.7 million Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant. This money will be used to support international tourism marketing, economic planning, workforce development and training, as well as supporting/developing outdoor recreation infrastructure projects and mitigating the effects of the increased use. 

“It’s important as we increase accessibility and use of our outdoor assets that we also put the resources needed into protecting and maintaining them for future generations,” said Fey. “This EDA grant will help us to do that important work.” 

OREC will be accepting competitive applications for grant funding as it determines the distribution of its portion of the $9.7 million. To learn more about the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry office or sign up for the newsletter to stay abreast of grant news, visit their website

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