Study Says Outdoor Industry Has Larger Economic Impact than Pharmaceutical, Totaled $645 Billion in Spending in 2011


A new study has shown the outdoor recreation industry to be much bigger than some may think. Taking into account not only sales of gear and equipment, but also expenditures on services such as product designers, web developers, marketers, management, outfitters, and more, the industry is an “economic giant” in the United States.

According to the study, spending on outdoor recreation in the United States totaled $645.6 billion in 2011. By comparison, consumer spending on pharmaceuticals for the same year was $331 billion. Only two industries examined were bigger spenders than the outdoor industry, financial services and insurance ($780 billion) and outpatient health care ($767 billion).

Western states generated $256 billion alone in sales and services along with 2.3 million jobs, according to the report. “The numbers are better than we expected,” Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, chairwoman of the Western Governors’ Association, said in a statement. “We knew that outdoor recreation was a growth sector and that it creates jobs, but this study documents just how important it is to our national and Western economies.”

The outdoor recreation industry jointly commissioned Southwick Associates to conduct a survey of American spending on outdoor recreation equipment and activities. Participating in the survey and release of the report on June 10 were: The Western Governors’ Association (WGA), Outdoor Industry Association, Motorcycle Industry Council, Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association, Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, and National Marine Manufacturers Association.

The study looked at the following outdoor activities:

  • Trail sports
  • Biking
  • Camping
  • Snow sports
  • Water sports
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife watching
  • Motorcycle riding
  • Off-roading

The study marks the first time that motorized and non-motorized sectors of outdoor recreation worked together to document the total size of the outdoor industry. The National Marine Manufacturers Association said it would continue to work with the coalition to analyze and release state-by-state data later this year. State-by-state data would help members of the outdoor recreation industry better inform policy-makers and show the importance of the outdoor industry in the North American economy.

View the full report here (pdf).

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