Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account

Updated National Statistics and Prototype State-Level Statistics for 2012–2017

On September 20, 2019, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released updated statistics from the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA). These statistics, covering the period 2012–2017, are the second official release of national-level statistics, and for the first time, prototype state-level statistics were released.2 National measures of value added by activity for 2012–2017 have also been added. The updated statistics incorporate the 2018 comprehensive update to the supply-use tables. Also updated are source data on outdoor recreation spending by government agencies and data on the share of economic activity related to outdoor recreation activities.

The updated statistics show the U.S. outdoor recreation economy accounted for 2.2 percent, or $427.2 billion, of current-dollar gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017 (chart 1). The statistics also show that total gross output for the outdoor recreation economy was $778.5 billion and generated 5.2 million jobs and $213.4 billion in compensation. The largest conventional outdoor recreation activity in terms of chained-dollar GDP was boating/fishing at $18.7 billion. For these and more details on national-level ORSA activity, see tables A through F.

The prototype state statistics on outdoor recreation cover the years 2012–2017 for all 50 states and the District of Columbia and fulfill the requirements of the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016.3 State-level estimates are available by activity for value added and by industry for value added, employment, and compensation. These state statistics are valuable because they highlight state economic activity associated with outdoor recreation. For example, the published data show how many jobs in a state are associated with the outdoor recreation economy.

The state-level ORSA statistics, like BEA state-level Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account statistics, highlight a specific aspect of the whole economy.4 Outdoor recreation, like arts or tourism, is an aggregation of many diverse industries, each of which contributes to a set of activities. That is, goods manufacturers, service providers, and government all contribute to the basket of production and spending related to outdoor recreation activities.

Highlights from the 2017 prototype state-level outdoor recreation statistics are as follows:

  • The relative size of the outdoor recreation economy ranges from 5.4 percent of GDP for Hawaii to 1.2 percent of GDP for the District of Columbia.
  • Outdoor recreation compensation as a percent of state total compensation is the highest in Hawaii (5.1 percent) and the lowest in the District of Columbia (1.1 percent).
  • Outdoor recreation employment as a percent of state total employment ranges from 8.0 percent in Wyoming to 2.4 percent in Ohio.
  • The retail trade and accommodation and food services sectors are the largest contributors to outdoor recreation jobs in all states and the District of Columbia, except in Indiana, where manufacturing is the largest contributor.
  • Boating/fishing is the largest conventional activity in 29 states and the District of Columbia; boating/fishing value added is the greatest in Florida ($2.7 billion) and California ($1.8 billion).

The rest of this article discusses the concepts, definitions, and geography of outdoor recreation. It also provides a summary of the methodology used for the prototype state statistics and highlights key state-level results for 2017. The article concludes with a brief discussion about future work leading to the release of official state-level statistics in the fall of 2020.

The prototype state-level ORSA is an extension of the national-level ORSA. The definitions are the same, and the presentation of the ORSA statistics by industry and by activity is consistent with how the national-level industry and activity estimates are presented. For instance, the activities are grouped into three categories: conventional core activities, other core activities, and supporting activities. The conventional core activities are all recreational activities undertaken for pleasure that generally involve some level of intentional physical exertion and occur in nature-based outdoor environments—activities such as boating, fishing, climbing, hiking, hunting, and skiing. The other core activities are recreation activities that are undertaken outdoors for pleasure and can occur in man-made environments—activities such as golfing, baseball, gardening, and walking for pleasure. The supporting activities include construction, trips and travel, local trips, and government expenditures.

The ORSA measures of employment, compensation, and value added follow BEA definitions. Employment consists of all full-time, part-time, and temporary wage and salary jobs in which workers are engaged in the production of outdoor recreation goods and services. Self-employed individuals are not included in employment totals.

Compensation consists of the pay to employees (including wages and salaries and benefits such as employer contributions to pension and health funds) in return for their outdoor recreation-related work during a given year. Pay to self-employed individuals is not included in compensation.

Value added (also referred to as GDP) consists of the value of outdoor recreation goods and services produced less the value of expenses incurred for their production. The activity of self-employed individuals is included in value added.

State outdoor recreation is measured by place of production, not residence of consumer. Consequently, the value of manufactured goods, such as boats, is assigned to the state where they are produced, even if the goods are not ultimately used there. Services, such as sailing lessons, are also assigned to the location where they are produced (which is also usually where they are consumed). The value of services provided by retailers, such as boat dealers, is also assigned to the location of sale. The services of retailers (known as trade margins) are not measured by sales but are most akin to sales less the cost of goods sold. The production of imported goods is excluded from ORSA, but the value of the services of retailers selling the imported goods is included.

Because of the production-based approach, the distribution of an ORSA activity across states depends on the types of ORSA-related industries in those states. An increase in outdoor recreation participation by residents of a given state may not have a proportionate impact on that state’s economy. Increased spending on RVing, especially if driven by spending on new RVs, will likely have a greater impact on states where RVs are manufactured than on the state with the increased spending. Similarly, an increased interest in skiing by residents of Florida may be of relatively greater benefit to Colorado, as residents of Florida travel to ski facilities in Colorado.

Outdoor recreation-related production is included in state industry totals even if the final consumption occurs outside the state. Activity tables show states’ total contributions to outdoor recreation activities’ value added, regardless of the contributing industry. For example, boating/fishing value added by state represents all contributions by in‐state boat manufacturers, marinas, repair shops, and so forth, to the boating/fishing activity. Industry tables show states’ total outdoor recreation‐related value added, employment, and compensation by industry, regardless of the outdoor activities the industries support. A state’s total value added across all outdoor recreation activities will equal the state’s total value added across all outdoor recreation industries.

The ORSA is a complement to other measures of participation in outdoor recreation. BEA’s satellite account measures the production of goods and services associated with outdoor recreation. This is a separate measure from attempts to quantify participation through counts of participants or time spent.

Allocations to states

The state-level outdoor recreation statistics are a methodologically consistent geographic extension of the national-level outdoor recreation statistics. Estimates of outdoor recreation at the national level set overall levels of spending by industry and by activity that are distributed to states. As a result, the sum of any industry or activity across states will necessarily equal the U.S. value for that industry or activity.

Outdoor recreation spending and production are allocated to states by applying state‐level data to detailed, underlying national values at the commodity level. The underlying estimates are distributed to states before aggregation to publication levels.

State allocations for value added are primarily based on a time series of data generated by extrapolating best-level estimates from the Census Bureau Economic Census (EC) with best-change data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW). Goods-producing industries have their initial state distributions set with EC value-added data. For service-sector industries, EC receipts are used to set initial value-added distributions. Data from various federal agencies, including the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are used to supplement the EC and QCEW data. This approach is consistent with the methods used for producing GDP by state statistics and makes the ORSA state-level statistics comparable to BEA’s other state statistics.

Compensation distributions are based on QCEW wages and salaries plus supplements to wages and salaries from BEA. Employment distributions are based on state QCEW annual employment counts of full-time, part-time, and temporary workers by detailed industries. Additional data from industry and trade associations are used to inform and corroborate EC- and QCEW-based estimates. For example, data from the American Horse Council was used to refine estimates of equestrian activity across states.

Value added

Outdoor recreation value added as a percent of state value added ranges from 5.4 percent in Hawaii to 1.2 percent in the District of Columbia (chart 2).

In the west, apart from Hawaii, the highest shares are found in Alaska and the Rocky Mountain states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. In the east, the highest shares are found in Florida and the northern New England states of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

The Rocky Mountain states feature prominently in the ORSA because national parks provide ample opportunities for activities such as camping, hiking, and sightseeing (table 1). Colorado and Utah benefit from spending on snow activities. Hawaii and Alaska have high shares of their states’ value-added/GDP related to ORSA due in part to the transportation services required by travelers to the state.

The northern New England states are strong in boating/fishing, hunting, and snow activities (table 2). Florida is notable, not only because it has a high percentage of value added derived from ORSA, but because its economy is also one of the top five in the United States.5 Compared to Florida, other states with large economies such as California, Texas, and New York have lower state shares of ORSA-related value added. It is important to note that among these large states, the activities that contribute strongly to the states’ ORSA value added vary.

Value added by activity

Outdoor recreation value added by activity data also show that boating/fishing is the largest conventional activity in 29 states and the District of Columbia (table 3). Florida (12.9 percent), California (8.6 percent), and Texas (7.6 percent) are the largest contributors to boating/fishing value added in the United States (chart 3). In Texas, fuel accounts for a large share of boating/fishing value added.

RVing is the largest conventional activity in nine states, led by Indiana ($2.9 billion) and Ohio ($599.5 million) (table 3). Indiana (17.0 percent), California (8.8 percent), Texas (8.8 percent), and Florida (5.5 percent) are the top four largest contributors to RVing activities in the United States (chart 4).

Snow activities, which are highly concentrated in a few states, are the largest conventional activity in Colorado ($1.5 billion), Utah ($549.2 million), and Vermont ($175.9 million) (table 3).

Skiing/snowboarding accounts for a significant portion of the snow activities in these states. Colorado (30.5 percent), California (11.4 percent), and Utah (10.5 percent) are the top three largest contributors to skiing/snowboarding value added in the United States (chart 5).

Value added by industry

Retail trade is the largest contributor to outdoor recreation value added in 17 states, including Texas ($8.5 billion), Washington ($2.8 billion), and Ohio ($2.7 billion) (table 4). Manufacturing is the largest sector for outdoor recreation value added in Indiana ($4.7 billion), Wisconsin ($2.0 billion), Louisiana ($1.6 billion), and Kansas ($684.2 million). The arts, entertainment, and recreation sector combined with the accommodation and food services sector is the largest contributor to outdoor recreation in 26 states and the District of Columbia.

Compensation and employment

Compensation as a percent of state total compensation is highest in Hawaii (5.1 percent), Wyoming (4.7 percent), and Montana (4.2 percent) (chart 6).

The lowest percentage shares are found in the District of Columbia (1.1 percent), Connecticut (1.4 percent), and Ohio (1.5 percent). Average compensation, which is defined as total outdoor recreation compensation divided by the number of total outdoor recreation jobs, ranges from $31,011 in West Virginia to $48,318 in New York (table 5).

U.S. outdoor recreation employment as a percentage of U.S. employment is 3.4 percent in 2017 (chart 7).

Like value-added states in the Rocky Mountains and New England, the states of Alaska, Hawaii, and Florida have a high share of their employment related to outdoor recreation. However, state employment shares tend to be higher than their respective state value-added shares. This is due to the composition of outdoor recreation employment. Service-sector jobs related to outdoor recreation tend to have more employees per dollar of value added than business and professional services jobs. Wyoming, Hawaii, and Alaska are the states with the highest state outdoor recreation employment shares.

In Wyoming, Hawaii, and Alaska, the accommodation and food services sector is the largest contributor, followed by retail trade (table 6). Retail trade is also the largest contributor to outdoor recreation employment in 41 states. Manufacturing is the largest contributor to state outdoor recreation employment in Indiana, driven by the RV manufacturing industry.

The top five states in terms of outdoor recreation employment growth in 2017 were Hawaii, South Carolina, Utah, Indiana, and Colorado (table 7). The largest contributing industry to Hawaii’s 11.1 percent growth in outdoor recreation employment was accommodation and food services at 8.8 percent. This was also true for South Carolina, Utah, and Colorado; however, in Indiana, manufacturing accounted for nearly all the state’s 6.4 percent growth in outdoor recreation employment.

BEA is currently soliciting feedback on the prototype state-level ORSA statistics. The agency will release official state-level statistics in the fall of 2020 that incorporate user feedback, new source data, and improvements to methodology.

In addition, BEA will research the feasibility of producing real-dollar estimates of outdoor recreation value added by state. BEA developed this account under a 2-year interagency agreement with the U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies that serve as stewards of public land and waterways and as stipulated in the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016.


  1. For questions or comments about this article, the authors can be reached at OutdoorRecreation@bea.gov.
  2. BEA released prototype national estimates of outdoor recreation in March 2018 and official estimates in September 2018.
  3. See https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4665.
  4. ORSA is the latest in a series of satellite accounts produced by BEA, including satellite accounts for arts and culture, travel and tourism, health care, transportation, research and development, digital economy, and household production.
  5. See https://apps.bea.gov/itable/iTable.cfm?ReqID=70&step=1#reqid=70&step=1&isuri=1.