PORTLAND, Maine — With a state nickname like Vacationland, it's easy to understand why people come to Maine for outdoor opportunities. From the mountains to the beaches and all the trails in between, the state is a premier destination for residents and tourists.
The COVID-19 pandemic only boosted the outdoor recreation industry. Over the past two years, new bicycles, skis, ATVs, and other equipment were hard to come by, as the supply chain was greatly impacted by the surge in new demand.
Now the state is starting to learn just how much that boom helped Maine's economy.
The U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis released a report on each state's economy last year. Maine's outdoor recreation industry made up 3.6 percent of the state's total economy. According to the data, the industry generated $2.8 billion in total economic output.
“When you look across the country, we have something that’s really unique here," Jenny Kordick, the executive director of Maine Outdoor Brands, said Thursday. “We’re not surprised. We’ve seen this growth, and it’s been exciting how many more people are getting connected to the outdoors.”
The numbers show Maine is one of the top five states in the country when it comes to the value of outdoor recreation in the state's total gross domestic product.
Manufacturing and sales of gear and equipment added $348 million to the economy last year, which is a 21 percent boost from 2020.
Sales and rentals for canoeing and kayaking from last year saw a 69 percent increase from 2020.
“These numbers are a sign that outdoor recreation is really important to the economy in Maine," Kordick added.
Business owners like Chris Carleton of Allspeed witnessed firsthand how the pandemic boosted sales for nearly two years.
“We’ve seen two things. One, a lot of folks re-discovering the outdoors," he said inside the Allspeed's location in Portland. “[Second] we’re also seeing a lot of folks that are moving here specifically to live in a really great area for outdoor recreation.”
With all those people looking for new gear and apparel, Carleton said there has been a limited supply of new bikes since the onset of the pandemic. The good news, he said, is that the supply chain will actually benefit the consumer by next spring.
“It will be back on track, and it will be an oversupply," he added.
While there will be a balancing of the supply chain, and as more indoor activities have restarted in recent months, industry experts are confident the outdoor industry will still see steady growth.
“Everybody that got into these outdoor rec activities, whether it’s biking, skiing, whatever else, [there are] more people that are going to stick with it than not, so we really think that long term there’s more users than there were before the pandemic," Carleton added.
As for Maine Outdoor Brands, Kordick said the state needs to continue to invest in infrastructure opportunities in all corners of Maine. The organization is also working with new companies to serve Mainers of all abilities to make sure everyone can enjoy the outdoors in Maine.