In spite of, and because of, the pandemic, Montana has taken the top spot in the nation for its reliance on the outdoor recreation economy as a portion of its gross domestic product.
According to statistics released this week by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Montana’s outdoor economy comprised 4.3% of the state’s total GDP in 2020, outpacing perennial favorite Hawaii, which fell to 3.8%.
“I’ll be curious to see if this holds up,” said Jeremy Sage, interim director of the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.
According to the federal analysis, Montana’s outdoor industry generated $2.23 billion in 2020, down from $2.49 billion in 2019. Wyoming fell from $1.58 billion to $1.24 billion.
Retail sales play a big role in these figures, Sage pointed out.
“For the nation, the retail trade sector was the largest contributor to U.S. outdoor recreation value added in 2020, accounting for $101.9 billion,” according to the BEA. “At the state level, retail trade was the largest contributor to outdoor recreation value added in 35 states.”
Under the previous administration of Gov. Steve Bullock, Montana worked to recruit businesses and promote its outdoor recreation economy, creating the Office of Outdoor Recreation and hiring a director to lead the efforts. The website is still active, but clicking on the contact button now takes a visitor to a San Jose, California, “business attraction manager.” A call to the Department of Commerce’s human resources office was not returned in time for this story.
“Our treasured public lands and many outdoor recreational opportunities do a lot to sell themselves, and the governor is committed to protecting, promoting, and growing this important industry for the enjoyment of Montanans and those who visit our state,” said Brooke Stroyke, communications director for Gov. Greg Gianforte, in an email.
Despite its climb above GDP stats as a percentage over other states, the outdoor recreation industry in Montana took a hit in 2020 due to the pandemic, as did Wyoming’s.
“This led to rapid changes in demand as consumers canceled, restricted, or redirected their spending,” according to the BEA report.
In Montana, the outdoor recreation economy dropped by 0.4% in 2020 compared to 2019. In Wyoming the gap was larger, with a 0.8% drop.
“Montana fared pretty well throughout the pandemic,” Sage said, partly because the drive market in the Mountain States is so strong.
Montana also likely did well due to the out-migration of urban residents to states like Montana, said Gregory Gilpin, head of Montana State University’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics.
In the year since the BEA report, Gilpin noted a lot has changed very quickly. He referred to reports noting that airport travel in Bozeman set a new record this year and Airbnb demand was high with premium prices commanded by homeowners there and in Whitefish.
“I would suggest there’s a lot more vibrance in Montana tourism for 2021 than in 2020,” he said.
The question, he said, is how the state adapts going forward as the economy continues to shift in new ways, like the prominence of cryptocurrency creating a “gold rush” like economic boost and the workforce’s loss of almost 5 million people during the pandemic, some of which decided to retire early.
“That’s a tremendous number of workers missing,” Gilpin said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to automate.”
Montana’s 2020 outdoor recreation decline is partly a reflection of …….