Outdoor recreation is already a multi-billion dollar industry in Alaska, but an analyst at UAA's Center for Economic Development says there may be more money on the table.

Richelle Johnson considers outdoor recreation an emerging industry in the state and says specific public policy actions may lead to further growth, as seen in other states. 

"We have categorized emerging industries as some areas where we have seen a lot of innovation and new businesses and growth, despite some of our lags from our recession," Johnson said. 

According to a report by the Center for Economic Development (CED), outdoor recreation saw steady growth from 2012 to 2016. It estimates that consumers spend $3.2 billion each year on their outdoor trips, and in turn, the industry is responsible for about 38,000 jobs statewide. Right now, the biggest money-making outdoor activities are wildlife viewing, hunting and fishing. 

"We focus a lot on summer activities, but there's a booming economy in the Lower 48 for winter activities like skiing and snow machining," Johnson noted. 

Efforts in other states to bolster outdoor activities have included state-lead social media marketing. One example is the Tested in Idaho campaign. The website and Instagram account feature pictures of people using outdoor gear made or designed in the state. 

"Tested in Idaho actively recruits outdoor gear businesses to join, and amplifies its social media following through a brand ambassador program," the CED report states. 

While Alaska has a tourism marketing budget, and a state-run Made in Alaska marketing program, Johnson says a social media campaign could be the next step. 

"It could be a focus on a very specific area where the state can support businesses," Johnson said. 

The CED also notes a connection between growth in outdoor recreational activities and the potential for growth in Alaska's skilled workforce. The report cites the results of an Alaska Residents Statistics Program survey,  in which 58% of respondents cited opportunities for outdoor activities as a reason for choosing to live in Alaska. 

One area of emphasis for recruiting new residents, according to the CED report, could be on telecommuters. In 2018, Vermont launched its Remote Worker Grant Program, which offered $10,000 to remote workers who moved to the state as part of its "Think Vermont" campaign. 

"Vermont’s attraction efforts are too new to evaluate as a success, but they raise interesting possibilities for Alaska," the CED report suggests. The New York Times estimates 43% of Americans worked from home in some capacity in 2016.

But once in the 49th state, Johnson says just encouraging Alaskans and visitors alike to spend one more day outside can provide a big boost for the economy. 

"If 50% of Alaska’s outdoor-active population spent one additional day engaged in an outdoor trip, they would spend over $34 million. In the process, that
spending would create 610 jobs with a payroll of over $21 million," CED's report concluded. 

"Tourists especially, if they stay here one more day for one more activity, it supports local businesses and generates more jobs," Johnson said. 

Moving forward, CED suggests the state may consider using a model similar to the National Forest Service to collect consistent data on outdoor recreation. The U.S. Forest Service's National Visitor Use Monitoring Program regularly surveys users about their activities and spending. 

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