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The Outdoor Industry, Pennsylvania’s $14 Billion Secret

February 08, 2023 12:00 AM
By: Nathan Reigner, Pennsylvania Director of Outdoor Recreation

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While it is easy to think of outdoor recreation as a great way to spend quality time with your friends and family on a sunny Saturday afternoon or to decompress after a long day of work, it is important to also think of outdoor recreation as one of Pennsylvania’s leading industries.

As an industry sector, outdoor recreation added $14 billion to Pennsylvania’s gross domestic product in 2021, producing more than 150,000 jobs and accounting for 1.6 percent of our total economic productivity, according to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (PDF).

In that year, the outdoor industry added more value to our commonwealth’s gross domestic product than all of Pennsylvania’s farms, all of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas wells, and even all of Pennsylvania’s lawyers.

The outdoor industry itself is like a smaller-scale version of Pennsylvania’s economy, creating value in employing people in many different areas like manufacturing, retail, professional services, tourism and hospitality, and all levels of government.

Pennsylvania’s Outdoor Industry is Growing

A backpacking tent is set up in a forest among trees, moss, and shrubs.

The outdoor manufacturing industry is a bright spot within our outdoor industry and for the commonwealth as a whole.   

We make outdoor equipment in Pennsylvania -- bikes and bike accessories, climbing gear, recreational vehicles, high-tech backpacking equipment, fishing tackle, skis and snowboards, and even granola bars specially designed for outdoor adventures.  

This robust mix of outdoor manufacturing is a bright spot within our outdoor industry and for the commonwealth as a whole.

Indeed, over the past five years, our outdoor manufacturing sector has grown by 25 percent and wages earned in outdoor manufacturing jobs average nearly $110,000, 10 percent greater than manufacturing jobs outside the outdoor sector.   

Many Parts to The Outdoor Economy

A retail store with fishing gear like waders, boots, and als ocamping gear like chairs. A window lets outside light into the sho

Once made, Pennsylvania’s outdoor clothing and equipment is sold at shops small and large, many of which are Pennsylvania owned.

Retail accounts for the largest proportion of Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation industry and is a rapidly growing sector of our economy.

Since 2017, the contribution to Pennsylvania’s gross domestic product made by the sale of hiking, camping, and climbing equipment rose by a whopping 52 percent.

This popularity and power of outdoor retail led to the founding and national growth of Public Lands, an outdoor specialty brand of our very own Pennsylvania-based Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Creative, technical, and public service careers are available in the outdoors for Pennsylvanians as well:

  • Planners, landscape architects, and trail designers and builders create the places where we recreate outside.  
  • Content producers, marketers, map makers, and guidebook producers inspire and empower us to visit new places.  
  • Educators, guides, and outfitters show us the way and help us appreciate the natural and cultural heritage that surrounds us.  
  • Park rangers, foresters, game wardens, conservation officers, and recreation program managers protect us and the landscapes in which we like to play.

More than 8,000 of these professionals are at work in Pennsylvania every day.

Visitors Contribute to The Outdoor Economy

Many people are gathered outside on grass, many are holding or sitting on bicylces.

The outdoor industry isn’t just generating value within the commonwealth, it is also bringing money into the commonwealth.

Outdoor-based travel and tourism (i.e., trips of 50 miles or more from home) adds $4 billion to Pennsylvania’s gross domestic product.

When making these trips, visitors see and experience the best of Pennsylvania and often leave wanting to move to our commonwealth and become Pennsylvanians themselves.

This, combined with the $1.3 billion spent by those on local outdoor recreation trips, stimulates trailside businesses, fills lodging and hospitality establishments, and generates revenues for gas stations and grocery stores in every corner of the commonwealth.

Outdoor Recreation Has Many Values

A large, flat, vertical rock face is being scaled by two people who are connected to ropes and harness. Trees and other foliage

With all this value being generated and all these Pennsylvanians employed linking their passion for the outdoors to their professions, we should not lose sight of all the other ways the outdoors contributes to our commonwealth’s prosperity.

Participating in outdoor recreation is one of the best ways to get and stay healthy, both physically and mentally, and in doing so reduces healthcare costs.

Just as outdoor recreation keeps people healthy it also helps to keep our environment healthy.

Outdoor recreation is by far the most popular public use of conserved lands and waters, which are themselves the green infrastructure necessary to mitigate storm impacts, moderate heat waves, and purify air and water.

Consequently, investments in Pennsylvania’s outdoor industry are also investments in Pennsylvanians’ health and sustainability.

Supporting the Outdoor Industry of the Future

A large lake is partially covered in floating plants. Multiple kayaks are floating in the water by the shore, and more are fathe

There’s so much more potential to grow jobs, spending, and investments around outdoor recreation.

This effort requires the coordination and the experience of every sector from environmental management to healthcare and the combined skills of entrepreneurs and bureaucrats alike.

This is why Pennsylvania’s Director of Outdoor Recreation has convened the Recreation Engagement Coalition -- the most diverse and comprehensive outdoor recreation advisory body ever formed in Pennsylvania.

The coalition is charged with informing the mission, scope, and priorities of Pennsylvania’s office of outdoor recreation to help Pennsylvania’s outdoor economy deliver its full value to the commonwealth and ensure that every Pennsylvanian reaps the economic, community, health, and environmental rewards of outdoor recreation.

The Recreation Engagement Coalition has held several meetings and retreats since September 2022.

It is finalizing a schedule for a series of regional listening sessions this spring across the commonwealth; and anticipates releasing action step recommendations later this year.

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