PRORAGIS to Measure Park and Recreation’s Economic Impact

May 1, 2015, Department, by Travis Smith, Ph.D.

PRORAGIS will help NRPA and its partners better determine the economic impact of parks and recreation.How much economic activity does your agency generate for your community? What about all the parks and recreation departments in your state — do you know what economic activity they produce? Or what about all parks and recreation agencies in the United States?

It’s a mind-boggling question, but NRPA is going to tackle it in the coming months. In collaboration with the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, NRPA is embarking on a project that will conclusively demonstrate the economic impact of park and recreation agencies across the country. While we can safely assume that parks and recreation agencies spend billions of dollars annually on day-to-day operations, capital improvements and staff salaries, we don’t currently have any type of estimate about how many billions of dollars that might be. We know the qualitative and quantitative impact of the parks and recreation field and profession is enormous — we just don’t know how enormous. Importantly, we’re using well-established, conservative methods to perform our evaluation and enlisting the services of world-class economists to examine the data. While our study won’t capture the economic benefits generated by parks and recreation-induced tourism or proximity-based increases in real estate value due to the scale of our country, the analysis that we base our evaluation on will be rock-solid and of the highest credibility.

What will this mean for you, the parks and recreation professional? There are many ways that having this information can help those individuals dedicated to the field, as well as agencies across the country. As mentioned above, it will finally allow us to compare the field’s incredible collective impact in comparison to other industries. While we know the annual economic impact of the outdoor industry is $646 billion, and even know that the craft brewing industry contributed $34 billion to the U.S. economy in 2012, we don’t know the economic impact of the work that hundreds of thousands of park professionals do every day.

Additionally, this number will make elected officials at the federal, state and local levels sit up and take notice. While some agencies are effectively making the case that their department is a great investment that drives economic activity, we know many elected officials just aren’t getting the message. We also know that while there are many great examples and stories of the very important qualitative impacts that parks and recreation make on people’s lives, we’ve got fewer data-supported quantitative arrows in our quivers. At all levels, combining the stories of how parks and recreation impacts the lives of those in our communities with the cold, hard facts that studies like this one will produce will make our collective case supporting the value of parks and recreation all that much stronger.

Travis Smith, Ph.D., is NRPA’s former Vice President of Research.