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Last month’s research column highlighted our latest edition of NRPA’s
The Economic Impact of Local Parks report. The study, conducted by Dr. Terry Clower of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, finds that local park and recreation agencies’ operations and capital spending generated nearly $218 billion in economic activity and supported 1.3 million jobs across the United States in 2019. The study’s findings emphasize how parks and recreation drive significant economic activity in communities across the nation.
The report also features economic impact estimates for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The nation’s four most populated states see substantial economic impacts from their local park and recreation agencies. Specifically, the economic impact and supported employment from park and recreation agencies’ operations and capital spending in 2019 from the four largest states are:
- California with $23.6 billion in economic activity and supporting 127,600 jobs
- Florida with $15.9 billion in economic activity and supporting 97,501 jobs
- New York with $14.1 billion in economic activity and supporting 77,105 jobs
- Texas with $12.1 billion in economic activity and supporting 77,149 jobs
On the other end of the spectrum, the five states seeing the most modest economic benefit from park and recreation agency spending are:
- Alaska with $397.9 million in economic activity and supporting 2,436 jobs
- New Hampshire with $314.5 million in economic activity and supporting 2,158 jobs
- Maine with $303.2 million in economic activity and supporting 2,464 jobs
- Vermont with $245.8 million in economic activity and supporting 1,519 jobs
- Rhode Island with $223.6 million in economic activity and supporting 1,459 jobs
All five states share something in common — a relatively small population. But the economic impact of parks and recreation is substantial in each of those states, too. Another way to rank states is by the economic impact after adjusting for population, which provides a different list of the states that benefit most from their local and regional park agencies’ spending. The top five states for economic activity arising from park and recreation agency operations and capital spending on a per capita basis are:
- Nevada: $3,586 per capita
- District of Columbia: $2,092 per capita
- North Dakota: $1,567 per capita
- Colorado: $1,209 per capita
- Hawaii: $950 per capita
Similarly, the top five states in terms of employment supported by park and recreation agency spending are:
- Nevada: 18.81 jobs supported per 1,000 residents
- District of Columbia: 9.26 jobs supported per 1,000 residents
- North Dakota: 8.80 jobs supported per 1,000 residents
- Colorado: 7.27 jobs supported per 1,000 residents
- Wyoming: 6.42 jobs supported per 1,000 residents
Several factors beyond population can influence the economic impact of park and recreation agency expenditures. Of course, the most obvious factor is the size of operations and capital spending. The George Mason University work relies on estimates of park and recreation agency expenditures and employment from annual U.S. Census Bureau surveys of local governments.
The key takeaway from the state-level analysis is that states large, small and everything in between experience significant economic benefits generated from their local park and recreation agencies. When combined with the ability to deliver healthier and happier communities, the full impact parks and recreation has on economic activity highlights that park and recreation agency offerings are not merely a “nice-to-have,” luxury government service. Instead, the field of parks and recreation transforms our cities, towns and counties into vibrant and prosperous communities for all.
Kevin Roth is NRPA’s Vice President of Research, Evaluation and Technology.