Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Local and Regional Parks: Engines of Economic Activity

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Local and Regional Parks: Engines of Economic Activity

Article excerpt

First at the NRPA Annual Conference in September and then later in November, we shared exciting news that adds to the already compelling message of how local and regional public parks contribute to their communities. The headline was that spending at local and regional public parks contributed almost $140 billion in economic activity and generated nearly 1 million jobs in 2013. These numbers enhance an already robust list of reasons why public parks are important partners to their communities.

These results are from the recently released Economic Impact of Local Parks, the first-ever nationwide study that measured the economic impact of local and regional parks. This is not to say park agencies large and small have not conducted similar studies on their own. In fact, a number of local and regional park agencies have estimated the value of the economic activity their system has had on their local community, focusing on spending, tourism and property values. Until now, however, no study has tabulated the combined economic contributions of the thousands of local and regional park agencies throughout the United States.

To fill in this gap, NRPA joined forces with the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, led by Dr. Terry Clower, to estimate the impact of spending by local and regional park agencies on the U.S. economy. The study focused exclusively on the effects of spending by local and regional park agencies on economic activity. The study used data from the U.S. Census Bureau and from NRPA's benchmarking database, PRORAGIS.

So, What Do the Findings Mean?

The $140 billion estimate of economic activity represents the direct, indirect and induced effects of local and regional park agency spending on the U.S. economy. So, what is meant by direct, indirect and induced effects?

Direct effects are the actual spending by local and regional park systems, including spending for equipment, utilities, goods, services and personnel costs. In 2013, operations spending at local and regional park systems totaled $32.3 billion with another $22.4 billion in capital expenditures.

Indirect effects capture the spending associated with the park systems' vendors. Consider the example of a park system contracting with a local company to spray for mosquitoes. To deliver these services to the park system, the pest control company will hire employees, purchase pesticides and contract with a bookkeeping service. The bookkeeping service, in turn, rents office space, hires workers and purchases office supplies and so on. All of the spending by the pest control company and its vendors represents the indirect effects of park agency spending.

Induced effects track the employees of both the park and recreation agencies and their vendors spending their wages in the economy.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, local and regional park agencies had 356,000 workers on their payrolls in 2013. This translates into $32.3 billion in direct operations spending by the agencies throughout the United States. This spending ripples through the economy, expanding into almost $80 billion in total economic activity, which supported almost 660,000 jobs that paid in excess of $24 billion in salaries, wages and benefits.

Further, local and regional park agencies spent an estimated $22.4 billion on capital programs in 2013. This spending led to an additional $59.7 billion in economic activity that generated more than 340,000 jobs that paid $19.6 billion in labor income.

Combining the data of operations and capital spending finds the nation's local and regional public park systems creating $139.6 billion in economic activity and more than 990,000 jobs that boosted labor income by $43.8 billion.

Conservative Measures

As powerful are the findings that local and regional park systems are responsible for almost $140 billion economic activity and approximately 1 million jobs, they are conservative measures of the economic impact of local and regional parks. …

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