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  • Writer's pictureLee Hart

AK's Outdoor Economy Enjoys Brisk Post-Pandemic Recovery

Alaska’s outdoor recreation economy is a bright spot in Alaska’s overall economic health. Before the pandemic and as recovery continues, growth in Alaska’s outdoor recreation economic sector is among the strongest in the country and outpaces overall growth in Alaska’s economic output.

Looking at newly released US Bureau of Economic Analysis data, as a percentage of a state’s overall economy, Alaska’s outdoor recreation economy has risen in rank from seventh in 2018 to fourth largest in the nation this year. Alaska’s outdoor recreation economy totals $2.1 billion; 3.6 percent of Alaska’s overall economy.

BEA’s outdoor recreation satellite account data from last year shows that overall recovery of the sector in Alaska increased a whopping 35 percent, the third largest percentage increase nationally, behind only Hawaii and Rhode Island.

Like Hawaii, travel and tourism accounts for a large share of the state’s outdoor recreation economy, 54 percent in Alaska. The single biggest contributor to outdoor recreation economic output is transportation and warehousing due largely to the expense of travel to and within Alaska.

In job recovery, Alaska is on the podium in third place again, this time behind Hawaii and Wyoming. In 2021, nearly 19,000 jobs or 5.6 percent of all Alaska jobs, totaling $1.1 billion in wages - double the national average as percent of all state compensation - is attributable to the outdoor recreation sector.

So here are five data points we believe demonstrate the merits of increased investment in outdoor recreation infrastructure and services:

  • The new BEA data provides the statistical proof that outdoor recreation in Alaska is a powerful economic driver.

  • Surveys and other data found in the draft State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (2023-2027) shows Alaskans are avid participants in all manner of outdoor recreation and would like to see improvements that provide more access and mitigate overcrowding

  • Visitor industry survey responses consistently cite the desire to view wildlife and this state’s wild landscapes as primary reasons to visit Alaska.

  • A report from UA’s Center for Economic Development recognizes that the outdoor recreation sector offers an avenue for economic diversification that builds on Alaska’s inherent strengths.

  • According to the Outdoor Foundation’s 2022 Participation Trends report, the outdoor recreation participant base grew again in 2021. The outdoor participant base has increased by 6.9% since the COVID pandemic began in early 2020. Although many of the official restrictions on indoor entertainment including restaurants, bars, and sporting events ended in 2021, outdoor recreation participation continued to grow. Senior participants ages 65 and older were in the fastest growing age category with 16.9% growth since the COVID pandemic began in early 2020.

Access to the outdoors is integral to the Alaska way of life, benefits state and local economies, and contributes to the mental and physical well being of residents. Outdoor recreation infrastructure provides the gateway for residents and visitors to experience this state's amazingly diverse landscapes and thus merits greater investment by local and state governments.

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