Outdoor Recreation & Economic Development go Hand in Hand

by | Jun 1, 2023 | News

Area Recreation Key to Economic Growth

As published in the 5/31/23 edition of the Altoona Mirror by Walt Frank

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation adds $14 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy and creates 150,000 full-time jobs with a payroll of $6.8 billion.

“We have the sixth largest recreation economy in the country,” said Nathan Reigner, Pennsylvania director of outdoor recreation, at the Altoona Blair County Development Corp.’s annual meeting.

Outdoor recreation is a significant economic driver in Pennsylvania that delivers direct economic benefits to rural communities, provides jobs, brings income into the state from visitors and merges community quality of life with long-term sustainable returns.

“As we invest in the environment, we find returns in increased property values, health values such as more fresh air. There are mental health benefits. Nothing is as expensive as keeping Americans healthy. We can reduce that by participating in outdoor recreation,” Reigner said.

Access to trails, being close to park access and access to green space are important when people are looking for a home or a company is looking for an industrial site, Reigner said.

“Quality of life is the second highest factor for executives. We see quality of life being a necessary ingredient for economic development,” Reigner said. Active outdoor recreation is a fundamental and highly valued community and economic development asset, according to ABCD Corp. President/CEO Stephen McKnight.

There are three primary reasons: They attract and retain people, they promote good health and it’s good business, McKnight said.

“The opportunity to attract more people to smaller outdoor-oriented communities is going to grow. A more mobile work life enables people to live and work in places where they want to live rather than must. Communities of all shapes and sizes are attracting new residents and investment like never before,” McKnight said. “The outdoor economy is tourism, but it is much more. It is diverse and integrated into the broader economy. Ensuring that active outdoor assets are at the forefront of our local, state and national economic development strategies will help ensure many more communities benefit and can proactively manage that benefit for generations to come.”

In 2022, Pennsylvania established Reigner’s position within the Department and Natural Resources.

The director’s mission is to expand and ensure the benefits of outdoor recreation for all Pennsylvanians.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania officials have proposed creating the state’s first Office of Outdoor Recreation. The office would establish the outdoor recreation industry within Pennsylvania’s government and connect it with other essential government entities.

Reigner expects that office to become a reality this summer.

“The goal is to unite, strengthen and grow Pennsylvania’s outdoor economy. The core strategy is to build capacity for community and economic development through the outdoors. Ninety-three percent of Pennsylvania people participate in outdoor recreation. We need to prepare the outdoors for Pennsylvania’s future,” Reigner said.

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