Mesa County’s outdoor recreation industry is running ahead of statewide economic impact numbers, according to a long-requested report released this week.
Nathan Perry, the associate professor of economics at Colorado Mesa University, compiled a report detailing the economic impact of Mesa County’s outdoor recreation industry. The report shows that Mesa County has a higher GDP (Gross Domestic Product) from outdoor recreation than the statewide figure — 4.8% in the county compared to 3.1% statewide — and that outdoor recreation tourists have a greater economic impact on the county than standard tourists.
Perry presented his findings to local representatives of outdoor recreation businesses and nonprofits, educational partners, tourism partners, and economic development professionals on Wednesday at Base Camp Beer Works.
“I’ve been asked to do this study for years, but I haven’t had time because I’ve been working on other projects. I was excited when I finally got to do it,” Perry said. “One of the motivations for me to do this is that nobody has estimated the economic impact of outdoor recreation in the county, so it got the academic in me excited to try to do something new. I applied a methodology that I thought was strong to get an estimate for an area where it really hasn’t been done to my knowledge.”
Perry used statewide data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan to inform his research. He also relied on the Grand Junction Economic Partnership to identify more that 150 local businesses that are involved in outdoor recreation and outdoor recreation tourism, as there were national, state and regional estimates available but no county estimates.
The basics of Perry’s calculation featured four facets of income approach: labor income (or wages), rental income, interest income and profits. He then used IMPLAN’s economic software to determine three economic effects: direct effects (one or more production changes or expenditures made by producers or consumers as a result of an activity or policy), indirect effects (business-to-business purchases in the supply chain taking place in the region that stem from the initial industry input purchases) and induced effects (values stemming from household spending of labor income after the removal of taxes, savings, and commuter income).
Five categories of outdoor recreation businesses were identified in the report: trail/road, water-based, winter, wildlife-related and others (such as RV camping, picnicking, target shooting, rock climbing, team or individual sports, and playground activities).
Businesses that were involved in a survey provided by Perry identified trail/road activities as the most popular core activities, accounting for 50.9% of outdoor activity, followed by water-based (18.2%), other outdoor (16.4%), wildlife-related (9.1%) and winter (5.5%) activities.
Forty-five outdoor recreation businesses reported their wage figures, totaling $27,978,664. Extrapolating those figures to the full outdoor recreation business population brings an estimate of $93,262,213 in total wages to Mesa County’s outdoor recreation industry.
Four of the five categories of outdoor recreation businesses rely more on full-time employees than part-time employees — 250 of 300 employees at businesses based on water-based activities are full-time — but trail and road businesses are the exception with more than 350 part-time employees compared to more than 250 full-time employees.
Perry created a table displaying his findings of the economic impact of outdoor recreation businesses.
In direct impact, there are 3,690 employees with a labor income of $98,466,896.
The direct GDP is $131,254,953 and the total output is $198,892,817. When indirect and induced figures are added, it leads to a total of 2,501 employees; $131,925,902 in labor income; $190,673,455 in GDP; and $318,783,484 in total output.
Those numbers rise sharply when adding in businesses focused on outdoor recreation tourism.
The direct figures rise to 7,620 employees; $200,550,181 in labor income; $321,625,137 in GDP; and $540,434,017 in total output.
After adding the indirect and induced figures, the totals rise to 9,897 employees; $294,593,235 in labor income; $484,474,065 in GDP; and $875,063,799.
Perry said the county’s 4.8% direct GDP — which rises to 7.2% when accounting for indirect and induced figures — was an encouraging, if expected, result of the number-crunching, as well as the determination that 11% of Mesa County employees work in the outdoor recreation industry.
“I was very satisfied with the results. It came in with what I think is a very realistic number,” Perry said.
“We know Mesa County has more outdoor recreation than the eastern plains and some of these other parts of Colorado. I would expect those counties to have a lower number and counties like Mesa County and a few other select counties to be higher. I think 4.8% is right about where I would think that it would fall.”
Perry explained the difference between GDP statistics and total output statistics, citing an example that he often provides to his Intro to Econ students at the start of each semester.
“Let’s say we’re calculating the GDP for a car,” Perry said.
“When we count GDP, we count the final sale amount of the car. If it sells for $15,000, then $15,000 is counted in that car. What we don’t do is count the $4,000 of steel, the $6,000 of plastic, the $15,000 that the retail company sold it for. We don’t count all those things because that would be $25,000.
“The real GDP, the real value of the output, is what the final good or service sells for with all that value embedded in it. Total output looks at the steel company and says, ‘Oh, $4,000 of steel. Oh, $6,000 of plastic. Oh, the car company sold the car for $15,000,’ and it’s all added up.
“Total output doesn’t follow GDP accounting. Total output represents how each business feels it.”
Perry’s presentation kicked off Wednesday’s Campfire Conversations at Base Camp Beer Works, where a multitude of speakers addressed outdoor recreation.
Speakers were Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office Director Conor Hall, Outside Events Cycling Series Co-Founder and Grand Valley Outdoor Recreation Coalition member Chandler Smith, Mountain Racing Products Vice President and Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA) member Scott Winans, VanWinkle Ranch Co-Owner Janie VanWinkle, Rancho Duranzo Fruit Grower Gwen Cameron, Mesa County Child and Migrant Services Executive Director Nelly Garcia-Olmos, Alluvia Packraft CEO and co-founder Mariana Cevallos, Bin 707 Foodbar and Taco Party co-founder and Executive Chef Josh Nierenberg, Eureka! McConnell Science Museum Executive Director Jenn Moore, and Colorado West Land Trust Program Manager Libby Collins.