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Getting counted: New bill brings outdoor industry into GDP


Industry hopes bill brings more influence for advocates of our public lands

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO  - A newly passed law means Oregon's outdoor industry will get counted in calculations of the  Gross Domestic Product or GDP. Oregon's outdoor industry is an economic powerhouse, with 496 businesses, 141,000 jobs and $12.8 billion in consumer spending.

Surprisingly, all that economic activity here and in other states doesn't get factored into the country's Gross Domestic Product, the ultimate gauge for the size of an economy and how it's performing.

Outdoor industry leaders say their sector's exclusion from GDP calculations gives them short shrift in influencing government policies for public lands and other recreation issues.

But that should change with the final passage this month of the Recreation's Economic Contributions Act by Congress, which was signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 8.

The bill was supported by local industry leaders, and was a priority for the Outdoor Industry Association, a leading trade group.

"Sound data points will help put the outdoor industry on par with other sectors of the economy," says Kirsten Blackburn, corporate communications and advocacy manager at Keen footwear in Portland.

It also helps drive sustainability, she says. For Keen, that means "protecting the areas where their consumers live and play, through both conservation advocacy efforts and responsible supply chain management," including product-related sustainability initiatives.

The bill directs federal agencies to provide economic metrics and other statistics to assess and analyze the outdoor recreation economy and its effect on the overall U.S. economy. The bill applies to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce that sets the GDP, as well as the U.S. Department of Labor and other agencies.

By definition, GDP represents the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country's borders in a specific time period.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO.  - Kayaking is one of several outdoor recreation activities that contributes to the Oregon economy. Columbia Sportswear executives were part of an industry delegation to Washington, D.C., to rally support for the bill, which wound up passing with broad bipartisan support.

Peter Bragdon, Columbia Sportswear's executive vice president, chief administrative officer and general counsel, says everyone he talked to in D.C. had a story to share about their outdoor experiences and favorite equipment.

Getting more recognition of the economic role of outdoors businesses can help ensure long-term sustainability and public access to recreation lands for the next generation, says Ron Fordham, Columbia Sportswear communications director. "Our focus is on consumers — getting them into the outdoors, and promoting public policy that makes sure this space (public lands) is cared for," Fordham says.

Federal statistics in this area are important to providing annual, objective government data, says Jessica Wahl, government affairs manager of the Outdoor Industry Association.

Adding the outdoor recreation economy to annual GDP reports "demonstrates and recognizes the economic power of our industry and helps elected officials make policy decisions that support the growth of this sector of the economy," Wahl says. It also gives companies the certainty they need to further invest in their businesses, she adds.

Columbia executives say they were impressed by the overwhelming bipartisan support they heard in D.C. They found a lot of room for common ground among congressional representatives, industry and constituents when it comes to the outdoors.