A group of legislators toured the Winter Colorado Outdoor Recreation Convention in Denver last week, where companies from around the world touted their incredible selection of outdoor equipment, clothing and accessories to retailers. We saw the newest in ski equipment and bike racks, down jackets and ice climbing equipment, hunting gear and energy bars. We met entrepreneurs eager to break into the industry.
It was an amazing array, and reminded me of my District 59 constituents, the ones who thrive in the outdoors, and make every effort to enjoy our recreational opportunities year-round.
The outdoor industry accounts for 10 percent of Colorado’s economy, with $37 billion in consumer spending, creating more than 511,000 jobs.
In 2015, the industry took a giant leap, leaving its base in Salt Lake City to land in Denver, with three conventions, millions of dollars, and one home, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry office (OREC). I am running a bill with Representative Matt Soper and Senators Don Coram and Tammy Story to make the office an official part of the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, coordinating the hundreds of moving parts of this growing industry throughout the state.
Though the conventions themselves seem like enough for this office to oversee, they are just a small piece of the giant puzzle.
OREC focuses on four main areas of work: economic development; conservation and stewardship; education and workforce training; and public health, wellness and safety.
The Economic Development sector looks at business growth, but also monitors the industry’s impact on our outdoor spaces. Development needs to be sustainable, innovative and authentic to the people who use it or are otherwise affected by it.
Some of the office’s accomplishments include helping rural economic development by expanding outdoor recreation, and forming the Rural Technical Assistance Program, which partners with the CU Masters of the Environment Program. They have encouraged businesses to move to Colorado, hosted the Colorado Outdoor Industry Leadership Summit in Glenwood Springs to advance statewide economic growth, opened several recreation area,s and sponsored the 2019 Colorado Classic, the only all-women, stand-alone professional bike race in the Western Hemisphere.
In the conservation and stewardship area, OREC works to mitigate the economic and social impact of outdoor recreation activities. They’re working to establish the Fishers Peak State Park in Trinidad, which will be the second largest state park in Colorado. Partnering with others, they are balancing the multiple uses of public lands, restoring critical landscapes and deepening the relationship between the energy and recreation sectors.
OREC also promotes the Leave No Trace program, and leads the Plastic Impact Promise, where 225 outdoor brands signed the pledge to not use single-use plastics.
OREC is supporting the next generation of outdoor industry leadership through its education and workforce training. It is working with several state colleges and universities to expand their outdoor recreation courses, and has established three fellowships at Western Colorado University in Gunnison to advance a more diverse student body. OREC established a Youth Ambassador program, encouraging involvement in the industry, and created an Executive Certificate Program for the industry through the CU Leeds School of Business.
The office understands the connection between expensive health care and physical health and, in its fourth component, promotes the health benefits of being outdoors. The office is partnering with the CU School of Public Health and OEDIT to create Health Link modules. These modules will help guide businesses to both assess and improve their workplace connections to outdoor recreation, advancing the mental and physical health of every employee.
The office has also formed a partnership with the search and rescue community to explore how to secure permanent funding.
The bill will be heard in the Energy and Environment Committee on Feb. 27, after we finish the House’s morning floor session, usually around 10:30. In District 59, constituents may participate remotely at Fort Lewis College in Durango, or the Colorado Mesa University campuses in Montrose or Grand Junction. Sign up on the Colorado Legislature’s website by going to leg.colorado.gov/remote-testimony, then check the box next to HB20-1191.
OREC is a great boon to the Western Slope, focusing on some of our biggest needs: healthcare, economic growth, renewable energy, education and the varied uses of our public lands. I am proud to sponsor its continuous service.
Barbara McLachlan represents State House District 59. Reach her at email@example.com.