Michigan outdoor economy continues to grow

Photo courtesy of Michigan Wildlife Council

An incredible aspect of Michigan life is the plethora of outdoor activities available year-round, and as it turns out, that contributes plenty to the state’s economy.

With more than 12,000 miles of state-designated trails and 8 million acres of publicly accessible land, Michigan’s outdoor recreation economy grew 15.4% from 2020-21, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Outdoor recreation contributes $10.8 million in value added for Michigan, including almost 10,000 jobs. The total ranked No. 13 in the U.S.

The BEA started calculating the size of outdoor recreation in 2012, and 2021 was Michigan’s largest measure.

Michigan is home to some of the world’s best natural resources and one of the nation’s strongest outdoor recreation industries,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a release announcing the figures. “Supporting Pure Michigan is a bipartisan priority, and I am proud that we have worked across the aisle to make the largest one-time investment in our parks and public lands ever in the Building Michigan Together Plan earlier this year.

“The investment will support tens of thousands of good-paying jobs and hundreds of local communities, and build on our ongoing, statewide economic development efforts to attract more businesses and opportunities to Michigan.”

Michigan’s outdoor recreation industries contribute approximately 1.9% of the state’s gross domestic product, which is substantially lower than several states, largely out west. Outdoor recreation also accounted for 1.9% of the U.S. GDP in 2021.

Michigan is now taking a leadership role at the national level of ensuring a bright future for outdoor recreation. Brad Garmonexecutive director of the Michigan Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, was recently elected as chair of the Confluence of States, a nonpartisan group working to support the future of the outdoor economy.

“The outdoor recreation economy is a powerful, unifying force for better health, good jobs and private sector investment all across the country,” Garmon said. “I’m honored to work with leaders in the Confluence of States and with our outdoor industry partners over the next year to develop and refine the range of programs and tools that our states use to enable more outdoor businesses to prosper and empower more families and communities to discover, love and support our nation’s rich endowment of parks, trails, lands and waters.”

Outdoor recreation boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic as locked-down Americans sought ways to get out of the house. Many of those Americans have continued their hobbies, while others built on pre-existing interests. In either case, the outdoor recreation industries helped fuel the nation’s recovery.

“We have seen record growth in camping and boating over the past couple years, with millions of people enjoying RVs and boats to connect with family and friends, to relax and recharge, and to experience nature,” Winnebago Industries President and CEO Michael Happe said in a release from the BEA. “The record economic impact in the BEA numbers demonstrates the collective power of our industry to help people discover and experience the tremendous benefits of the outdoor lifestyle. We continue to welcome an increasingly diverse group of new participants, so we look forward to maintaining this momentum by developing recreation infrastructure and increasing access for all.”

Michigan’s variety of lakes, beaches and forests have helped shape the “Pure Michigan” tourism campaign, and the outdoor options are attracting out-of-staters. With the opening of firearm deer hunting season Tuesday, Nov. 15, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced there were 21,723 hunting licenses sold to out-of-state visitors through Oct. 31, an uptick of 4% from the 20,895 sold through Oct. 31, 2021.

Fishing licenses were also a popular purchase for out-of-staters, who nabbed 201,835 through Oct. 31. Those licenses cost up to 10-times the amount as those purchased by Michigan residents. The funds from license sales are the main source for conservation efforts in Michigan — more than $65.5 million for the Michigan Game and Fish Protection Fund in 2021.

“Whether they come from cities, towns or villages of Michigan or from other states, we are grateful for all the benefits we gain when hunters and anglers continue to support conversation by taking to the woods and waterways of the Great Lakes State,” said Michigan Wildlife Council Chair Nick Buggia.

It’s not all good news after the pandemic surge, however, which itself offset a general 1-3% a year decline in licenses since 1996. Hunting licenses in 2022 are down 0.66% from last year, while fishing licenses are down 3.4%. According to the Michigan Wildlife Council, the number of Michigan hunters in the last 25 years has dropped by 250,000 as younger generations have not picked up the sport in great numbers.

Still, a 2019 study by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs and Michigan State University found hunting and fishing have a $11.2 billion economic impact on the state.

The Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, created in 2019, recently moved to be housed within the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and is charged in helping develop, promote and enhance the outdoor recreation opportunities in Michigan. That also includes the businesses that serve outdoorspeople such as Merrell, Carhartt and Stormy Kromer.

“Michigan’s visibility nationally is growing, and we have made the outdoor economy a regional focus industry for the state that will help us continue to create economic opportunity in our communities,” said Crystal Mountain President Chris MacInnes.

MacInnes serves on the MEDC Executive Committee and as a co-chair of the Michigan Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council.

“With MEDC’s economic and community development programs, as well as the hugely successful Pure Michigan campaign, this puts us in a strong position to grow and diversify the outdoor recreation economy and provide more well-paying jobs in Michigan,” MacInnes said.

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