A nuanced look at NM’s outdoor industry - Albuquerque Journal

A nuanced look at NM’s outdoor industry

Otto McNabb rides his bike near Ski Santa Fe in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains in October. Despite challenges caused by COVID-19, New Mexico’s cycling industry was a bright spot in 2020, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.(Eddie Moore/Journal)

As anyone who has visited a busy trailhead or tried to buy a bike in New Mexico recently can attest, the state’s outdoor recreation economy has evolved significantly over the last few years.

Which is why a new report from the Montana-based research firm Headwaters Economics might come as a bit of a surprise at first glance.

The report, published last week, used industry data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to measure the number of jobs and share of Gross Domestic Product the industry generated at the state and national level in 2020. The report ranked New Mexico 27th – between Oklahoma and Kentucky – for the share of state GDP derived from the outdoor recreation in 2020, down from 24th a year prior. That percentage dropped from 2.5% last year to 1.9% this year, according to the federal data.

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused outdoor recreation employment numbers to drop nationally, New Mexico’s decline was steeper than the nation’s. The state lost nearly 22% of its jobs in the industry, compared to 17.1% nationwide, according to the report.

So, what gives? Why was the decline so steep in a state that recently established an outdoor recreation office and encouraged residents to spend time outside to avoid spreading COVID-19? And, more importantly, what does it say about New Mexico’s effort to target outdoor recreation jobs and employers?

The answers, as you might guess, come down to what counts toward the nebulous category of “outdoor recreation.”

Megan Lawson, economist for Headwaters Economics, said the firm uses BEA’s definition of outdoor recreation, which includes traditional categories like fishing, cycling and skiing alongside broader categories, including leisure and hospitality and manufacturing, where they intersect with the outdoors. For example, Lawson said areas like gear manufacturing and hotel jobs would count toward the total.

And that helps explain the issue: the majority of the jobs counted in the survey – in New Mexico as well as nationally – are in the “retail trade” and “arts, hotels and food services” sectors, which were among the hardest-hit industries in the country. During the worst points of the pandemic, New Mexico’s leisure and hospitality industry lost around a quarter of its pre-pandemic jobs. Lawson said the combination of state mandates and travel restrictions designed to restrict the spread of the virus contributed to the job loss in New Mexico and elsewhere.

“There wasn’t any one state that was spared those impacts,” Lawson said.

Axie Navas, director of New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Division, said there was actually a lot to be optimistic about once you get past the top-line numbers. Digging into the data, Navas said New Mexico fared relatively well with regard to what the BEA terms “conventional outdoor recreation,” including hiking, camping, boating and cycling.

“All of those nature-based activities … saw growth,” Navas said.

Navas acknowledged that New Mexico’s ski industry saw declines last year due to extended closures, but most other forms of outdoor recreation saw growth. For example, she cited data showing that cycling’s economic impact grew by about 10%, and the boating industry’s impact grew by around 30%.

“There’s some real bright spots when you start to dive into the data,” Navas said.

The big question, for Navas and Lawson, is: how many of those bright spots from an anomalous year can carry over once travel, by far the largest spending category, begins returning to pre-pandemic levels. While we won’t have complete answers to that for another year, at least, Lawson said she was surprised to see travel spending stay as strong as it was nationwide.

“I think that shines a light on the economic opportunity that outdoor recreation presents for communities, that even in a pandemic, it still has the power to bring visitors in and bring that spending in,” Lawson said.

Given how volatile travel and hospitality spending has been during the pandemic, Lawson advised states to build up segments of the outdoor industry that rely more on local visitors, like gear manufacturing and trail construction.

Along those lines, the Journal’s Dan McKay reported that New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Division plans to ask lawmakers for $10 million in one-time funding during the legislative session in January, $7 million of which would go toward expanding the Trails+ grant program. Navas said expanding the state program, which supports projects like trails, river parks and wildlife crossings that enhance communities outdoor opportunities, will allow the state to fund more of the applicants, rather than a small fraction.

“I think it’s more important than ever before to lean into the outdoors,” Navas said.

Stephen Hamway covers economic development, health care and tourism for the Journal. He can be reached at shamway@abqjournal.com.

Home » Business » Outlook » A nuanced look at NM’s outdoor industry

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
The robot revolution is here: Local businesses gear up ...
Cafecito is the latest New Mexico ... Cafecito is the latest New Mexico business to utilize robots following the BioPark's restaurant, the Shark Reef Café, and Flix Brewhouse
Two utility cases, two different outcomes
ABQnews Seeker
Why did New Mexico’s Public Regulation ... Why did New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission approve an El Paso Electric buyout, then scrutinize and reject PNM’s merger a year later?
Want to preserve health entitlements? Bend cost curve
ABQnews Seeker
COLUMN: Our nation’s future seems burdened ... COLUMN: Our nation’s future seems burdened by the rising costs of entitlements. So, we ask, is this future set in stone, or can it ...
Sandia Speedway has new owners, a new name and ...
ABQnews Seeker
A group of local motorheads bought ... A group of local motorheads bought Sandia Speedway earlier this year, and have been renovating the track, now Suika Circuit.
Anatomy of a health systems 'marriage' proposal
ABQnews Seeker
As the saying goes: It's not ... As the saying goes: It's not what you know, it's who you know.
Median sales price increases slightly for ABQ metro single-family ...
ABQnews Seeker
The median sales price of a ... The median sales price of a single-family detached home and days on market until sale both increased in Albuquerque's metro area in February, but ...
‘A sense of humor comes in handy’: Head of ...
ABQnews Seeker
Rebecca Sanford is president & CEO ... Rebecca Sanford is president & CEO of Adelante Development Center Inc.
Dr. Mark Bryniarski has joined Lovelace Medical Group
ABQnews Seeker
BRIEFCASE: He is a board-certified neurosurgeon. BRIEFCASE: He is a board-certified neurosurgeon.
Contact employers directly to share why you are switching ...
ABQnews Seeker
ADVICE: Don't be the rookie; be ... ADVICE: Don't be the rookie; be the easy hire.