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The Outdoor Recreation Industry: Northern Michigan’s Natural Asset

Using Dun & Bradstreet data, this article examines the economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry and its subsectors.

By: Abigail Kendziorski, NLEA/DTE Energy Foundation Intern ‘22

With various trails and bodies of water, outdoor recreation plays an economically significant and growing role in northern Michiganders’ quality of life and enjoyment. From Torch Lake and the Grass River Natural Area, to the Bear River Valley and local ski hills, the outdoor assets in Northern Michigan offer activities including fishing, recycling, hiking, snowmobiling, and more that generate jobs and revenue for our area.

Communities across the NLEA service area of Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, and Emmet Counties recognize that outdoor recreation contributes to attracting and sustaining employers and families. Outdoor recreation manufacturers, facilitators, retailers, and service providers are major players in the local year-round economy; it is important to foster, grow, and retain the outdoor recreation industry in Northern Michigan to promote economic development and provide jobs.

A Data Dive

According to data from Dun & Bradstreet Hoovers, the outdoor recreation industry in Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, and Emmet Counties generates an estimated $153,790,877 in revenue annually and employs over 2,705 people.1 Figure 1 breaks down the revenue from different outdoor recreation sub-sectors. Facilitators contributed a vast majority to the revenue made in the NLEA service area, with an estimated total of $87,260,500 or about 57.6% of the total revenue. Businesses that fall under this category include golf courses, marinas, and campgrounds. Retailers and wholesalers, such as sporting goods stores and boat dealers, brought in over one quarter of the total revenue at $39,268,000. Next, service providers contributed a smaller portion of the estimated total revenue at $21,164,477; examples of service providers could be ski coaches or gun safety instructors as well as businesses that provide repairs for outdoor equipment. Finally, manufacturers who create outdoor recreation products like skis, bikes, fishing lures, hiking boots, and more had an estimated total revenue of about  $3,847,400, or approximately 2.5% of total revenue. Like many local sectors, the majority of revenue in outdoor recreation is from seasonal businesses, golf courses, marinas, ski areas, and campgrounds. Inasmuch as their positive economic impact is clear, it is important to foster growth in businesses that contribute to the year-round economy—employees making skis work all year, while employees operating chair lifts only work a few months.

Annual Revenue in NLEA Service Area 2022

Estimated Annual Revenue

Local Circulation of Money

While revenue and job figures are important metrics, they only reveal part of the picture. Outdoor recreation businesses bring money into the area and recirculate it through our local economy. United States Ski Pole Company (USSPC) in Cheboygan, owned by Andy Liebner, manufactures 100% carbon fiber ski poles and aims to use as many local resources and materials as possible. In an interview, Liebner explained that USSPC had their injection molds designed and made by engineers in Gaylord. Molds were then taken to Camcar Plastics in Muskegon to be injected with the plastic. To get the graphics on the ski poles, US Ski Poles uses a dye sublimation service provided by Creation Station in Cheboygan, implementing a heat press to imprint the design on paper. They then put preparatory paint on the poles in order to receive the ink, including a clear coat, and finally, the poles are taken to Black River Customs in Cheboygan, for a safety coat of paint to contain the gasses from the ink. In addition, the straps that USSPC use are sewn in Elk Rapids by Traverse Bay Manufacturing. USSPC is an example of an outdoor recreation equipment manufacturer that brings money into our region and circulates it through local businesses in their supply chain.

In sum, the outdoor recreation industry plays a significant role in the local economy, generating an estimated $151,540,377 in annual revenue and 2,705 jobs in the four county region. Looking to the future, outdoor recreation equipment manufacturer are uniquely positioned to bring additional revenue and jobs to the area; these companies are tinkering with new designs and refinements to the current products being offered. Protecting and improving regional outdoor assets is an opportunity to improve local quality of life and generate economic returns.


1 Data was accessed through Dun & Bradstreet Hoovers in 2020 by Michigan Economic Development Corporation staff. The majority of values reported are imputed, or estimates. To learn more about D&B Hoovers visit their website.

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