Outdoor recreation is big business in Oregon

Mark Freeman / Medford Mail Tribune /

MEDFORD — From behind the counter of his family’s Grants Pass gun-and-tackle shop, Dave Bradbury sells access to the outdoors one jar of PowerBait or one pair of boots at a time.

Lures for salmon fishermen, new shotguns for spring turkey hunters and wrap-around sunglasses for mountain bikers have added up over time to keep the doors to Bradbury’s Guns-N-Tackle open for the past 37 years.

“People here enjoy the outdoors, especially over the past four or five years, when they want to do things that don’t cost a lot of money,” Bradbury said. “They all buy stuff, and they all have to eat. They’re a force.”

Bradbury’s customers — along with the millions of other people who play in the Oregon outdoors — support a $12.8 billion industry in the Beaver State, providing jobs for 141,200 Oregonians, a new study shows.

The figures come from the Outdoor Industry Association, which has quantified the economic impact of outdoor recreation in the U.S. and for each state.

Americans spend $646 billion annually on outdoor recreation, directly supporting 6.1 million jobs that produce $80 billion in taxes, according to the OIA. In Oregon, the outdoors generates $4 billion in wages and $955 million in state and local taxes, the OIA says.

More than 140 million Americans take to the woods and waters for recreation annually, and the money they spend can be overlooked for the economic force it is, said Mike McMullen from Black Bird Shopping Center in Medford.

“They’ve been gone for four years, but they’re back,” McMullen said. “For a long time, they were buying just the essentials. Big-ticket items were real quiet for a few years. But the economy’s a little better now, and people have a little extra money... They’re playing with their fishing rods again; they’re getting their reels spooled. They’re back.”

And their financial clout has never been greater.

OIA research shows that the national outdoor-recreation economy grew approximately 5 percent between 2005 and 2011 — during a recession that caused many other sectors to contract, according to OIA spokeswoman Kate Fielder.

This shows that Americans continue to make outdoor recreation a priority in their daily lives — even in times of economic hardship — because it is a relatively inexpensive way to spend time with family and friends, pursue a healthy and active lifestyle, and relieve stress, Fielder said. In 2011, the most recent data OIA has gathered, outdoor recreation reached its highest level in five years, she said.

“That’s great, because I worry about the younger generation, with their iPads and iPhones and other i-things,” said Jim Bittle, president of Medford-based Willie Boats, which targets the fishing and pleasure-boating community.

“You don’t seem to see as many young anglers as you used to,” he said. “Those (OIA) numbers are great, but we need to pay more attention to the younger generation coming in.”

The new data is an expansion of a study OIA conducted in 2006, and it tracks direct jobs as well as direct consumer spending on gear, vehicles, trips and travel in 10 activity categories.

From behind the counter at Bradbury’s, it’s hard to see the big picture painted by OIA’s research. Dave Bradbury is on the front lines of the outdoor industry, so he sees just one snapshot at a time in the massive collage that is created by the sprawling outdoors industry.

OIA research shows that 68 percent of Oregonians spent time in the woods and on the waters at least once in the past year, and spent twice as much for outdoor activities than they did for prescription drugs.

“Those are good numbers,” Bradbury said. “It’s really interesting. There are so many aspects to this.”

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