New Mexico’s outdoor recreation industry is one of its fastest growing, and officials at the both the state and federal level advocated for it to receive more federal relief funds to survive the COVID-19 health crisis and maintain the momentum.
Recently released data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) showed the outdoor industry contributed $2.4 billion to the New Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP) last year.
The industry employed 35,605 people, representing $1.2 billion in total income.
Nationally, outdoor recreation represented 2.1 percent of the U.S. GDP last year, of $459.8 billion.
But New Mexico’s industry was growing faster than the nation’s, the report read, marking a growth of 5.9 percent since 2018 compared with 3.7 percent nationwide.
Outdoor recreation jobs in New Mexico also increased faster than the U.S., the report read, growing by 5.3 percent compared with 0.4 percent across the country, with income growing by 7.6 percent in New Mexico compared with 3.9 percent for the U.S.
RVing, equestrian and snow sports were the top three contributors to New Mexico’s outdoor economy, the report read, followed by boating and fishing.
New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division Director Axie Navas said the industry was one of the top sectors in the state’s economy and leaders should provide more funds to help its recovery after the devastating impacts of COVID-19.
“We know the outdoor economy is a powerhouse in New Mexico, employing over 35,000 people annually,” Navas said.
“But there is much more work to be done. The COVID-19 health crisis has hurt many of our businesses in this space – a fact not captured in this new tranche of data. It’s our job to aid in the recovery of the outdoor industry, so it continues to be a vibrant economic engine in the state.”
She said that if supported, the outdoor recreation industry could grow to be one of the state’s biggest.
This year, the New Mexico Office of Outdoor Recreation conducted a survey of 128 such businesses in the state, which reported 90 percent of respondents had lost revenue or been unable to afford basic expenses during the pandemic.
Of the respondents, 78 percent were small businesses with fewer than 15 employees, the report read.
Between March and May 2020, 30 percent of the respondents reported they had closed fully, with 20 percent reporting partial closures, the survey read.
More than 30 percent of the businesses survey reported they had to furlough or lay off 75 percent or more of their employees.
Almost half of the respondents said they received no emergency financial assistance.
“We aim to continue growing wages in outdoor recreation jobs and we want to see New Mexico at the top of the pack when it comes to the size and scope of its outdoor economy,” Navas said. “We live in the most beautiful state in the country – the BEA numbers should reflect that.”
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) said the BEA showed that the outdoor recreation industry in New Mexico was fast growing and worthy of financial support from the federal government.
“I am confident that the outdoor industry can play a major role in our national recovery,” he said.
“Outdoor recreation can help us solve health and access disparities, employ millions of U.S. workers restoring landscapes and rebuilding infrastructure, connect Americans to their heritage and drive local economies — particularly in rural communities.”
Heinrich said he called on Senate leadership to add support for outdoor recreation and public lands jobs in the next COVID-19 relief package, citing the “unique” impact faced by the industry amid the pandemic when Americans cancelled travel plans throughout the county.
“There's no doubt that hospitality, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries will face unique challenges in restoring consumer confidence and recovering business to where it was before the pandemic,” Heinrich said.
To that goal, Heinrich and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) sent a letter in July to Senate leadership calling for more relief funds for the outdoor industry in any future COVID-19 relief efforts.
They also advocated for fully implementing the Great American Outdoors Act, a law passed earlier this year to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund while making increased investments in the U.S. outdoor industry.
The letter was also signed by 10 other Democrat U.S. senators, and reported that for every million dollars invested in the outdoor economy, 15 to 33 jobs were created with an economic return of $2.4 for every dollar invested.
"The crisis before us requires targeted investment to reinvigorate our outdoor tourism economy and get Americans back to work,” the letter read. "Outdoor restoration investments generate more jobs compared to other alternatives because most of the investment goes towards labor, rather than materials.”