Montana’s outdoor recreation sector grew 18% in 2021

November 18, 2022

Montana Economy

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The importance of Montana’s outdoor recreation industry has been black-and-white validated as a cornerstone of the state’s economy in 2021, according to an impact report released by the U.S. Bureau of Analysis economy (BEA) last week. Outdoor recreation accounted for 4.4% of Montana’s gross domestic product (GDP) last year, up 0.1% from 2020 and the second highest percentage of any state, behind Hawaii in 4.8%.

Montana is also among the states with the highest percentage of workers employed in the industry, 5.4%, accounting for 27,584 jobs. Hawaii again leads this category with 7.1% of the industry’s workforce, followed by Alaska with 5.6%. Montana and Wyoming are tied for fourth. Montana added 1,584 outdoor recreation jobs in 2021.

Given the outsized impact of the multi-year pandemic on the outdoor industry – the US Census Bureau ranked it the second most affected industry behind the restaurant and lodging sector – the BEA 2021 report shows a remarkable rebound from the previous year, even as the pandemic continued to affect business operations and the use of public lands.

Montana’s $2.6 billion outdoor recreation industry topped its 2019 figure, while the national figure of $453.9 billion was only $6 billion lower than in 2019 and reported an 18.9% increase from 2020.

This was the fifth publication of BEA’s impact study on the outdoor recreation industry following the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act, enacted by the President Barack Obama in 2016, which broadened the analysis of the federal government.

“This data has been a powerful advocacy tool at the state and national levels, making it easier for policy makers to understand the economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry across the country and in their own districts and state,” Hannah Wintucky, Government Affairs Policy Fellow with the Outdoor Industry Association, said in a press release. “These numbers help us tell our compelling and credible economic story.”

The Outdoor Industry Association, a non-profit organization that promotes access to the outdoors in the United States, reports that the number of outdoor participants has increased by 26% since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Within the leisure industry, the report classifies activities into three general categories: conventional activities (including activities such as bicycling, boating, hiking and hunting); other main activities (such as gardening and outdoor concerts); and supporting activities (such as construction, travel and tourism, local travel, and government expenditure).

In conventional activities, the following indicators stood out in 2021:

Boating/fishing remained the largest conventional business in the nation with an added value of $27.3 billion in current dollars and was the largest conventional business in 27 states and the District of Columbia. Montana saw boating and fishing decrease by more than 10%, but the activity still leads the state at $163.1 million.

VR was the second largest conventional activity nationally with a current dollar value added of $25.1 billion, and ranked the same in Montana, where it contributed $160.4 million, an increase 14.5% year-over-year. It was the largest conventional activity in 15 states.

Hunting/shooting/trapping was the third-largest conventional business in the nation with current dollar value added of $10.8 billion, and in Montana where its $85 million contribution to the sector was a 17.3% increase from 2020.

Snow activities for Montana grossed $54.7 million, ranking the state 19th in the nation for overall value added. The largest contributors were Colorado ($1.3 billion), Utah ($519.4 million) and California ($505.7 million).