By Chris Adams

The gross domestic product is the widely followed measure of the nation’s economy. The same information is available at the state level.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, officials with the Bureau of Economic Analysis talked about how they calculate the nation’s GDP, as well as those produced on more granular  levels.

“When most people think about the economy, they’re mostly thinking about the state they’re in – or even the county,” said Nicholas Empey, chief of data and administrative systems at the bureau, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Empey talked about why BEA’s numbers are important, including how they direct $500 billion in annual federal funds, as well as how more than half of all states use them to set their state tax and expenditure limits.

“We’re a small statistical agency that produces a lot of big data,” said Thomas Dail of the BEA’s communications staff.

Among the main regional statistics: gross domestic product, personal income and employment, personal consumption expenditures, arts and cultural production, and outdoor recreation.

The all-important regional gross domestic product is available in current and inflation-adjusted dollars. State numbers on an annual basis are available from 1963 on, and on a quarterly basis from 2005 on.

Regional personal income and employment are available on a state annual basis from 1929 on and a quarterly basis from 1948 on.

For recent years, the data go down to the county level. Empey pointed out that of more than 3,000 counties in the nation, half of all the income is produced in just 102 of them.

Among the specialized economic measures, the BEA’s Dirk van Duym talked about one of the newest ones: outdoor recreation. Tallying up the total spending on things like bicycling, boating, fishing, hunting, skiing and the like, the BEA is able to show where that kind of economic activity is most important to a state’s economy.

Among the states at the top: Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Maine and Florida.