Research estimates outside rec results in Mesa County


phil lock, The business hours

Nathan Perry

Outdoor recreation contributes more than $484 million a year to Mesa County’s economy and provides nearly 10,000 jobs, according to a unique study conducted by researchers at Colorado Mesa University.

In addition, outdoor recreation businesses are diverse – a broad trade group rather than a single industrial sector – and encompass retail, manufacturing and other components.

“There’s a lot of business diversity in the outdoor trade group,” said Nathan Perry, associate professor of economics at CMU and lead author.

The study is the first study of the economic impact of outdoor recreation conducted at the county level in the United States, Perry said. As such, the study could serve as a model for research conducted elsewhere.

While the study only estimates the economic impact of outdoor recreation, Perry says the results reflect the significant role of recreation, accounting for more than 7 percent of the value of goods and services produced in Mesa County and one in every 10 jobs. “It’s such a big deal here.”

Perry presented the results of the study at a meeting in Grand Junction, which was also attended by representatives from national and local outdoor recreation and economic development groups.

Perry also discussed the findings in an interview with the Business Times.

He said he had long wanted to conduct a study to assess the economic impact of outdoor recreation in Mesa County, but had been busy with other projects until recently.

Perry conducted the study alongside Tim Casey, a professor of political science and director of the Natural Resource Center at CMU, and Johnny Snyder, a professor of computer information systems at CMU. They were funded by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade and Zoma Labs.

The study comprised two parts, Perry said, in estimating the economic impact of outdoor recreation businesses and outdoor recreation tourism.

They worked with the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Visit Grand Junction, the City of Grand Junction’s destination marketing organization.

The study included surveys of local outdoor recreation businesses and visitors who indicated that between 2019 and 2021, they came to Mesa County primarily to engage in outdoor recreation.

The study estimates the direct economic impact of outdoor recreation businesses at nearly $199 million and a total of 3,690 full and part-time jobs in 2021.

Adding indirect and induced effects to account for the purchase of materials and services in the supply chain, as well as employee spending on their wages, the total estimates were nearly $319 million and 4,501 jobs.

The direct impact of outdoor recreational tourism has been estimated at nearly $342 million
and a total of 3,930 full and part-time positions. Together with the indirect and induced effects, the total amounted to more than US$556 million and 5,396 jobs.

The study also estimated the impact of outdoor recreation on gross domestic product, the broad measure of goods and services produced in Mesa County.

The direct effect of outdoor leisure stores on GDP exceeded US$131 million. The direct effect of outdoor recreational tourism on GDP exceeded US$190 million.

The nearly $322 million figure represented 4.8 percent of Mesa County’s GDP, Perry said.

For comparison, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis put the effect of outdoor recreation in Colorado at 3.1 percent of the state’s GDP in 2019.

Perry said it’s not surprising that the percentage is higher in Mesa County, given the county’s proximity and popularity of recreational facilities and outdoor activities.

The combined impact of the outdoor leisure business and tourism on GDP was more than US$484 million or about
7.2 percent of Mesa County’s GDP. The almost 10,000 jobs accounted for about 11 percent of all jobs in the district.

Perry said the results of the survey of outdoor recreation businesses also reflect the diversity of their activities.

Nearly 51 percent of respondents said their core business is most associated with trail and road activities. Another 18.2 percent said their businesses were related to water activities, 9.1 percent to wildlife, and 5.5 percent to winter. Another 16.4 percent cites other outdoor activities.

When asked which industry best describes their company, respondents cited retail and manufacturing, professional, academic and technical services. Respondents also named arts, entertainment and recreation, and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.