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Alabama’s Biggest Industry? Hint: It’s Not Football

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Any state with multiple major college football teams has to owe a significant percentage of its economic boon to the sport, and that’s certainly the case with Alabama. After all, Alabamians frequently flock to fall football games played by the state’s two major flagship universities – Auburn University and the University of Alabama, both of which are positioned near the center of the state. However, while the economic impact of the football teams at the two schools is certainly nothing to laugh about – economists recently posited it somewhere around the $500 million mark – it absolutely pales in comparison to  Alabama’s biggest industry.

While autumn is undoubtedly the biggest season for Alabama’s economy, that fact is owed more toward the incredible popularity of hunting season than it is to the popularity of Auburn University or University of Alabama football. According to a recent nationwide survey lodged by the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, Alabama’s “wildlife-related recreation” activities like hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching are worth roughly $2.7 billion each year. That massive number is generated by everything that hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts spend money on in the name of outdoor recreation, from hunting and fishing licenses to equipment for a successful opening day.

Hunting is the big one, accounting for nearly a billion dollars in annual statewide revenues by itself. When deer hunting season rolls around each fall, outdoor recreation stores throughout Alabama find their revenues exploding. And while the University of Alabama and Auburn University find most of their football earnings contained to the Tuscaloosa and Auburn areas – the schools’ respective home cities – hunting revenues are scattered everywhere throughout the state.

As are fishing profits, which follow lakes, rivers, and streams to economic gold. In addition to myriad successful bait and tackle fishing shops in Alabama, bass fishing events held throughout the state often help to boost entire local economies during the weekends they take place. All told, Alabama’s fishing economy is worth $456 million, and that number – along with the figures provided by the hunting industry – is growing. The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation also found that hunters and anglers are becoming more numerous all over the country. Between 2006 and 2011, the hunting/fishing community expanded from 33.9 million to 37.4 million, and there is no reason to believe that such an expansion will not continue.

So what’s the reason for the new interest in outdoor activity? Part of the answer may be female participants, which are reportedly on the rise in hunting and fishing sports. Another may be the to-be-expected increase in younger people hunting. As our kids get older, we aspire to turn them on to hunting and fishing while also remaining active in the sports ourselves. Finally, a third explanation could be public fishing and hunting days or apprentice licenses, two factors that have made it easier over the past several years for inexperienced hunters and anglers to try out the outdoor recreation experience without expending a lot of working capital.

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Alabama’s Biggest Industry? Hint: It’s Not Football