Montana’s Outdoor Recreation Sector Grows 18% in 2021

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

Montana is also among the states with the highest proportion of manufacturing employees, with 5.4% and 27,584 jobs. Hawaii again led this category with 7.1% of those employed in this sector, followed by Alaska with 5.6%. Montana and Wyoming took fourth place. Montana created 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 as the second-most-hit industry behind the food and lodging sectors — the 2021 BEA report shows a notable year-over-year recovery, even as the Die Pandemic continued to impact business operations and public land use.

Montana’s $2.6 billion outdoor recreation industry surpassed the 2019 figure, while the national figure of $453.9 billion was just $6 billion down from 2019 and an 18.9% increase compared to 2020.

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

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

The Outdoor Industry Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes access to the outdoors in the United States, reports that outdoor participation has increased by 26% since the pandemic began 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 core activities (such as gardening and outdoor concerts); and supporting activities (such as construction, travel and tourism, local travel and government spending).

In terms of conventional activities, the following key figures stood out in 2021:

boating/fishing remained the largest conventional activity for the country valued at US$27.3 billion and was the largest conventional activity in 27 states and the District of Columbia. Montana saw boating and fishing down more than 10%, but activity still leads the state at $163.1 million.

Camper was the second-largest conventional activity nationwide, adding $25.1 billion in value, and claiming the same rank in Montana, where it contributed $160.4 million, a 14.5% increase year-over-year. This was the largest conventional activity in 15 states.

Chase/shoot/catch was the third-largest conventional activity for the country, valued at $10.8 billion in current dollars, and in Montana, where its $85 million contribution to the sector represented a 17.3% increase over 2020.

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