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Report: Outdoor recreation provides 6.1 million U.S. jobs

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By Tyler Allen, Staff Writer

BOULDER, Colo. – The outdoor industry provides 6.1 million jobs in the U.S., according to a report released by the Outdoor Industry Association in June 2012. The report detailed the significant impact that outdoor recreation has on the economy, including $646 billion dollars spent annually on outdoor recreation.

More Americans are working in the outdoor industry than in construction (5.5 million) or finance and insurance (5.8 million), according to the OIA report.

“America is globally recognized as the leader in outdoor recreation,” stated the report. “Advancements in technical apparel, footwear and equipment for outdoor activities are driving innovation and entrepreneurism, while creating a demand for highly skilled workers in areas like technology, product design, manufacturing, sustainability and global commerce.”

It also noted that the outdoor recreation economy grew approximately 5 percent annually between 2005 and 2011—a time during the economic recession when many sectors contracted.

Even without state specific figures (which OIA plans to release in 2013), it’s obvious the outdoor industry is a major factor in southwest Montana’s economy. The region is a world-class destination for hunting, fishing, skiing and hiking, and with Yellowstone National Park in the backyard, the recreation economy has an obvious and sizeable impact.

The most recent OIA report for Montana showed the outdoor recreation economy contributing $2.5 million and 34,000 jobs in Montana in 2006; the industry generated $118 billion in state tax revenue that year.

“Montana not only attracts those from out-of-state to take part in active outdoor recreation but also, with exceptional close-to-home recreation, generates economic activity from active Montanans,” the 2006 report stated.

The abundance of federally administered land in Montana is also an economic benefit to the state; in fact, according to the 2012 report, rural Western counties with more than 30 percent of their land under federal protection increased jobs at a rate four times faster than rural counties with no federally protected land.

A number of businesses based in southwest Montana benefit from America’s outdoor recreation obsession, and Mystery Ranch, Simms and Sitka Gear are just a few of the local brands impacting both the state and national economies.

Sitka Gear, which makes performance hunting clothing, moved to Bozeman from Napa Valley in January of this year. “The single biggest reason we moved to Bozeman is so we could do product testing,” said Brad Yeomans, Sitka’s national sales manager. “We have almost every animal in North America available to us within a two hour drive. It’s a good address; the culture of Bozeman really fits well with our company.”

There is a direct impact on the Montana economy from tourism, guides and retailers, said Wendy Stock, professor of economics at Montana State University, and “there is also a multiplier of spillover impacts, when those guides make money and go out and spend it at restaurants and shops.” Tourism and travel account for 9 percent of the Montana economy, she added.

In Big Sky, a town built on outdoor recreation, this residual trickle down is obvious. After purchasing a set of skis, a consumer buys a lift ticket and dinner, spends money on lodging and entertainment.

Big Sky Resort hired 27 new employees at the Basecamp this year, according to the resort’s public relations manager Chad Jones.

“They’re all outdoor jobs. The outdoor side of things is growing as people realize they can get outside, do fun things and get exercise.”

“The [OIA] report is encouraging for this region, and the fact that we created 27 new jobs here is a testament to that,” Jones said. “We all live in this area to recreate and enjoy the outdoor opportunities we have here, and it’s cool that people who live outside the area are getting a chance to experience that too.”

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