Fishing against the economy: Falling Governor's Cup numbers cause for concern (copy)

Boating and fishing contribute about $434 million to South Carolina's outdoor recreation industry, according to a new study by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. File

Economics and fun are two terms that don’t cross paths very often.

But now they've officially converged, with practitioners of the dismal science assigning a value to the national pursuit of leisurely endeavors.

The fresh data sets are courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The agency, part of the Commerce Department, recently released its first-ever state-by-state assessment of the outdoor recreation economy, a broad-based category that covers plenty of ground, from camping to concerts to boat building and apparel making.

Among the key findings: the industry accounted for $427 billion of the nation's total goods and services in 2017, or 2.2 percent.

At the same time, the outdoor recreation sector grew by 3.9 percent, compared to a 2.4 percent uptick for the overall U.S. economy. Pay and job gains also outpaced national averages.

The results weigh the direct impact of conventional outdoor activities, such as spending on boating, fishing and hiking, as well the indirect ripple effect on ancillary support industries that include construction, manufacturing and travel.

South Carolina punched above its weight in the new analysis. It was ranked No. 12 nationwide based on the 3.1 percent boost the industry injects into its economy. The total $6.8 billion impact included 101,200 jobs with a $3.47 billion annual payroll

Some of the state's top drivers included boating and fishing, at $434 million, and, surprisingly, spending associated with the use of recreational vehicles, at $385 million. Golf, tennis and other outdoor activities grouped under the "games" category came in at $364 million.

The findings didn't surprise South Carolina tourism chief Duane Parrish.

"I expected us to do well," he said last week.

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Kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding make up part of the $6.85 billion outdoor recreation industry in South Carolina. File/Staff

Parrish cited the Palmetto State's outdoor diversity — from the mountains in the Upstate to the beaches along the 187-mile coastline — and its abundant waterways, forestlands, parks, campgrounds and golf courses.

"All that bodes well for us from a recreation standpoint," he said. "With the exception of snow-related activities, we literally have everything else here."

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The release of the study follows a concerted national effort to give the great outdoors its economic due. The Outdoor Industry Association said it led the charge to pass a 2016 law requiring the Commerce Department to count the value of the industry's goods and services as a part of the U.S. gross domestic product for the first time. The Boulder, Colo.-based trade group heralded the new analysis. 

"The outdoor industry has always known it is a huge contributor to the national economy. This report brings new data to bear to underscore that fact — to the tune of outdoor recreation's real GDP growing significantly faster than the U.S. economy,"  said Amy Roberts, executive director. 

She described the first-ever state-level breakdown as "icing on the cake," saying it "will be immensely helpful to lawmakers, communities and businesses in promoting outdoor recreation-related activities and economic opportunities."

The industry is already looking to put the data to work. Executives from Columbia Sportswear and other companies traveled to Capitol Hill a few weeks ago to jawbone members of Congress about the trade war, particularly its effect on U.S.-based apparel manufacturers that import raw materials from China. Roberts' group estimated that the kind of employers it represents were hit with an extra $1.8 billion in "punitive" tariffs between September 2018 and July compared to the previous 11-month period.

"The cushion is now essentially gone," said Patricia Rojas-Ungar, the association's vice president of government affairs.

It all goes to show, having fun is serious business.

Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572 or follow him on Twitter at @byjohnmcdermott