On Monday night, the House of Representatives passed a bill authored by Democratic Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont that would measure the economic impact of outdoor recreation.
The Outdoor Recreation’s Economic Contributions (REC) Act directs the Department Of Commerce to assess and quantify job creation and consumer spending related to the outdoor and recreation industry.
Congressman Welch says if the bill becomes law, outdoor recreation activities from fishing to skiing to bird watching and associated jobs would be analyzed by the federal government and measured as part of the overall GDP for the first time ever. “The reason it’s important is to validate something that we know is true but haven’t quantified. And that is the number of jobs associated with outdoor recreation, how it helps our tourism industry, the economic ripple effects from our retailers who sell to that market. So this is a growing market in Vermont and in many other parts of the country and we want to provide a solid foundation for folks in that recreation industry to make their case for anything that might involve government programs.”
Welch adds that having the data available in the GDP is crucial at a time when the recreation industry is surging. “Here’s how it helps. It allows folks who may be thinking of starting a business to evaluate what the opportunities are with concrete information rather than speculation. It allows policymakers like in Montpelier to decide you know this is something we want to support because it’s a big opportunity for us. So information is power. And this act, which is bipartisan from folks across the country, is going to provide the hard data that’s going to be helpful I think to policy makers and to entrepreneurs in making decisions.”
There is currently no centralized method of analyzing the varied recreational sectors to measure their overall economic impact. Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce President Tom Torti notes that sectors are assessed individually. “No one to my knowledge has done a comprehensive look in any state that I know of or certainly on a national basis looking at the explosion of outdoor recreation. I think it is just phenomenal frankly that Congressman Welch has pushed this on a federal level to have this quantified. Because once it is and people understand the incredible value that it has on our economy regardless of what state or what jurisdiction you’re from I think it becomes easier than for folks to advocate for continued funding and maybe increased funding in some of those areas.”
Lake Champlain International advocates for a clean lake and hosts several fishing derbies annually. Executive Director James Ehlers says many sectors that are measured in the GDP do not play a major economic role in many rural communities. “Being able to have a handle on what is a very important aspect of the economy for these local rural communities is significant. Here in Vermont, and we can leave Lake Champlain aside for a second because its recreational benefits are obvious, there are communities like Island Pond which thrive based on snowmobiling and hunting and fishing. And it’s important that policymakers see those dollar figures involved so that they initiate the proper policies to ensure that those sectors of the economy are supported.”
Congressman Welch introduced the bill in March with Republican co-sponsors Dave Reichert and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Democrat Don Beyer of Virginia.
The recreational advocates are optimistic that the Senate will now pass the measure and hope to see it signed into law.