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Miami18: Boating a big, growing part of U.S. economy

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By Dorie Cox and Lucy Chabot Reed

Recreational boating in the United States plays a significant part in the country’s economy, according to a study released today at the Miami International Boat Show. The impact of outdoor recreation has been officially recognized by the U.S. government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

“This is the first time the federal government has, in any meaningful way, recorded outdoor recreation as an industry,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), owners and organizers of the boat show. “It’s bigger than mining, bigger than agriculture.”

The study shows that outdoor recreation — including conventional recreation such as boating/fishing, hunting/shooting, bicycling and hiking as well as sports such as tennis and golf — is 2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, about $373.7 billion. Industries such as mining and agriculture generate 1.7 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

The U.S. GDP is the total value of goods and services produced in the United States in one year. To translate the bureau’s 18-month-long research of the outdoor recreational sector into “English,” Lucas Hitt, chief communications division, and Tina Highfill, research economist, both of the BEA, explained to an audience how segments of data were culled from existing information and then grouped using many sources, including the U.S. census, labor department numbers, private groups, NMMA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The data showed boating/fishing is second only to motorized vehicles (motorcycles and RVs) in the broader outdoor recreation industry. Other outdoor recreation categories include bicycling, camping, hunting, equestrian, recreational flying, skiing and snowboarding. Boating/fishing is broken down into canoeing/kayaking, sailing, and “other”, which includes inboards, outboards and personal watercraft.

Of all the various types of outdoor recreation, boating/fishing created the second largest gross output with $38.2 billion in 2016, second only to motorized vehicles $59.4 billion. Golf and tennis, for example, created a gross output of more than $36.2 billion.

“The numbers [for boating/fishing] are larger than golf and tennis combined,” Hitt pointed out. “There is nothing minor or small about 2 percent of GDP.”

For comparison, Hitt noted that in 2016, manufacturing was 11.7 percent of GDP, and construction was 4.3 percent. The largest category is finance, insurance and real estate at about 21 percent, he said.

While the large yacht sector is included in the broad “boating/fishing” category, it was noted that things like charter were included in another category, guided tours/outfitted travel. That category created nearly $26.5 billion in gross output in 2016 and was the fourth largest piece of the outdoor recreation sector.

The two officials took questions from the audience, which was primarily comprised of the media. A reporter asked if there was anything in the numbers that surprised the analysts.

“I thought that 2 percent was pretty big,” Highfill said. “Overall, I was surprised by that number.”

Adding to the impact of the data, the study shows that the outdoor recreation economy grew 3.8 percent in 2016 compared to 2.8 percent in the overall economy. And within the study, the recreational boating sector has seen the most growth, Hitt said.

“Between 2012-2016, boating and fishing saw a 5.4 percent growth,” Hitt said. “That’s twice the growth rate of outdoor recreation as a whole.”

The study, named the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, is a prototype, and the BEA will accept input from interested parties for future research. The ability to break down data by region and even by state is “absolutely something we’d like to see happen,” Hitt said.

“We want your feedback on how things are grouped together and what might be highlighted separately,” he said. “We plan to publish another report by the end of this fiscal year [Sept. 30].”

To contribute comments and feedback to finalize definitions, data sources and methodology, email OutdoorRecreation@bea.gov no later than April 27.

Many sectors of the outdoor recreational market expect to benefit from the study and it will help policymakers and managers of public lands and waters.

“The data is invaluable,” Dammrich said. “The number is impressively large, giving us a lot of ammunition when working to get things done to grow the outdoor recreation economy.”

Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher. Comments on this story are welcome below.

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About Dorie Cox

Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton.

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