From Montana Economy at a Glance March 2018 by Christopher Bradley, Economist
The mountains, rivers, plains, and lakes of Montana offer all sorts of opportunities for recreation, which people are using more each year. More and more people living in Montana are using the great outdoors to have fun while tourists from out of state are also visiting in increasing numbers. In 2016, nonresident visitation to Montana surpassed 12 million visits for the first time, with Montana’s main draw being the great outdoors. Whether visitors come for the views, wildlife, camping, hiking, skiing, hunting, fishing, floating, biking, or any other outdoor activity, they contribute to the “outdoor economy” by spending money and interacting with businesses.
The outdoor economy can be difficult to measure because of the ways that it intersects with many of the industry groupings used in the production of most major economic statistics. For example, if we focused only on fly fishing we would see fly rod manufacturers falling in the one industry, retail sellers of those rods falling in another, and fishing guides in a third, all before considering the inputs of fuel, vehicles, or access that are all necessary as well. In early 2018 the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released a new prototype Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA) in a first attempt to provide statistics that quantify the outdoor recreation’s contribution to GDP in the U.S., both within industries and by activity. In doing so, the BEA broke outdoor recreation into three categories.
Conventional recreational activities, like hunting, fishing, camping and hiking.
Broad recreational activities, like outdoor festivals or agritourism.
Support activities, like travel expenses or construction.
Outdoor recreation drives significant consumer spending and brings many jobs to the state. Over the past ten years, Montana’s outdoor recreation economy has boomed. Beyond the spending and jobs that come from outdoor recreation, there are even more benefits that have yet to be measured completely. The opportunity to recreate in public spaces can increase home values and create value for homeowners. Businesses seeking new employees can use Montana’s recreational opportunities to use as a recruitment tool, which is especially helpful during a worker shortage. People who love certain sports and activities may even use their passion to fuel start-ups in the manufacturing of sports equipment, as guides, or other entrepreneurial ventures. While economists are still perfecting how to measure the benefits of outdoor recreation in Montana, it is already obvious that it provides large benefits to the state.