Business Economics

VOBA report elevates importance of outdoor recreation to local economies

Outdoor recreation is a large and growing employer in the US, providing jobs to almost 5.2 million people who earn more than $226.3 billion dollars.

Outdoor recreation contributes $459.8 billion to the Gross Domestic Product (three times the size of the airline industry).

Illustration shows the scale of outdoor recreation value-added contribution to GDP is $459.8 billion, or 2.4 times the size of oil and gas, 2.8 times the size of motor vehicle manufacturing, 3 times bigger than air transportation, and 5 times bigger than the motion picture industry. Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Vermont Business Magazine The positive economic impacts of outdoor recreation and outdoor recreation businesses will be a leading driver of post-pandemic recovery, according to a report released this week by the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance (VOBA) and the State Outdoor Business Alliance Network (SOBAN).

Titled “Inspiring the Future Outdoor Recreation Economy,” the report is a deep dive into the many local economic benefits of outdoor recreation, as well as a call to action for continued investment in the outdoor sector.

“During the pandemic, participation in outdoor recreation increased significantly, despite the challenges felt around the globe with production, distribution, and maintaining workforce. As the world recovers from this pandemic, outdoor recreation will continue to grow and drive the recovery. Communities will return to hosting large sports gatherings such as bike, trail, and ski races. These opportunities will bring back lost jobs and revenue important to local businesses,” said the report.

Led by representatives from VOBA and 23 other state outdoor business alliances, SOBAN is a network of business organizations founded in 2019 to share knowledge, opportunities, and best practices to strengthen commerce, infrastructure, and participation in the outdoors.

“Downtowns and villages that were positioned as outdoor recreation destinations prior to the pandemic have fared better in the economic recovery as people sought out communities offering a high quality of life for remote working or relocation,” said Kelly Ault, Executive Director of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance. “As the diversified outdoor sector continues to grow, it is being recognized and invested in as a priority economic development strategy for Vermont.”

Nationwide, in 2019, outdoor recreation employed almost 5.2 million people in 2019, who earned more than $226.3 billion dollars. For comparison, outdoor recreation employs about the same number of people as are employed in the nation’s hospitals, and twice the number employed in farming. In Vermont, outdoor recreation contributed 5.2% in 2019 to the state’s GDP, the second highest in the nation, leading to 20,000 jobs.

Additional key findings in the SOBAN report include:

  • Community benefits from outdoor recreation include lower health care costs and an increased ability to attract talent and new business.

  • The benefits of outdoor recreation extend far beyond jobs and income. Projects that support outdoor recreation also can support other community priorities, from equity to transportation alternatives to improved resiliency from natural disasters.

  • Investments in outdoor recreation, like workforce and infrastructure development, can pay dividends. The report notes that infrastructure like trails, fishing access, and boat launches bring visitor spending that directly supports many types of jobs, businesses, and local governments. 

  • With rising outdoor participation during the pandemic, the outdoor recreation industry will be a key part of building back local economies.

The SOBAN report was produced by Headwaters Economics, an independent nonprofit research group with support from 11 SOBAN organizations, REI Foundation, Outdoor Industry Association, and the Outdoor Foundation to inspire pathways for the future of our outdoor recreation economy.

ABOUT STATE OUTDOOR BUSINESS ALLIANCE NETWORK:  The State Outdoor Business Alliance Network (SOBAN) is made up of 24 state outdoor business alliances and two industry groups in British Columbia, working to advance a vision for America’s outdoor recreation economy that includes robust economies, thriving outdoor places, and inclusive outdoor recreation opportunities for all people. SOBAN leverages the interlinked potential of commerce, infrastructure, and equitable participation. For more information, go to:

ABOUT VERMONT OUTDOOR BUSINESS ALLIANCE: The Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance is a statewide organization of outdoor recreation businesses dedicated to strengthening, expanding, attracting, and retaining outdoor recreation economy businesses in Vermont. VOBA works to educate Vermonters about outdoor recreation and Vermont outdoor recreation businesses about business development so Vermont can continue to be a vibrant place to work, live and play. To learn more about the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance, go to