July is already upon us and the typical peak of Colorado’s summer outdoors is just a few days away. That also means the state’s fiscal year has closed, and I am feeling both excitement and trepidation as we approach summer and close out a year that has been tremendously challenging and incredibly tough on all of us. There is, I remind myself, much to look forward to in the year ahead, and many milestones to celebrate from the past 12 months.
A year ago, we were bracing for a significant economic downturn due to the pandemic, including budget cuts across state agencies. As of July 1, 2020, OREC lost 33% of its operating budget, and as we were transitioning to a remote work environment, we were also postponing many of our programs including travel and outreach, grant making, trade show and business support, and rural technical assistance initiatives. Additionally this year, the Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) sustained a number of critical staffing changes, from top leadership within the Executive Director's Office and Chief of Staff, to other offices OREC works closely with including our Minority Business and Tourism Divisions, Marketing and Communications, and Global Business Development.
This was a very challenging year for economic development, and one of the hardest legislative sessions in memory. OEDIT worked with our legislative partners to pass 12 bills that will infuse $228 million into Colorado’s economic recovery efforts.
Truly, no OEDIT division escaped the attention of the Legislature this year. Legislative actions impacting the OREC office this session include the Joint Budget Committee’s restoration of our budget in the General Fund, as well as HB21-1223, Create Outdoor Recreation Industry Office which made the OREC Office a permanent Division of OEDIT. Additionally, HB21-1318, Create Outdoor Equity Grant Program establishes the Colorado outdoor equity grant program to increase access and opportunity for underserved youth and their families to experience Colorado's outdoor recreation landscapes. The bill requires the Director of the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office to sit on the Equity Fund Board. Many other bills address issues critical to our industry, including the maintenance of our state parks and public lands, avalanche education, and Search and Rescue services. Thank you to everyone involved for your support of these bills, and testimony to the General Assembly.
The past year provided an opportunity for OREC to improve collaboration across OEDIT divisions, and across state government, both critical to the visibility of our industry and the valuable role OREC plays as champion and advocate. By engaging with the Global Business Development (GBD) Office, we’ve provided Colorado outdoor recreation businesses with international export opportunities and, more broadly, growth and marketing of the outdoor industry domestically and internationally. Through our work with the Rural Opportunity Office to implement the Grow Your Outdoor Industry Rural Technical Assistance Program (RTAP), we’re working on creating online education modules for the first phase of a stronger RTAP, serving as a critical first assessment for rural communities in diversifying their economies. In partnering with the Business Funding and Incentives (BFI) Office, we’ve connected outdoor recreation businesses to funding and incentive programs that directly support capital formation and job growth and retention for small outdoor recreation businesses across the state.
We’ve also pursued innovative partnerships with our lifestyle industry divisions on initiatives that bridge outdoor recreation with the creative arts, tourism, and film and television media. In response to the pandemic, we partnered with Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) to print student-designed artwork on Colorado-made face coverings and provided these, at no charge, to the Department of Education for distribution to students and teachers in under-resourced school districts across the State. We’ve put our heads together with the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) on responsible recreation messaging, including a backcountry recreation awareness campaign in winter, and wildfire messaging for summer activities. We continue to gather and contribute content for our Care for Colorado Coalition as well, demonstrating that the Outdoor Industry cares deeply about the safety of our residents and visitors, and the integrity of our lands, waters and climate.
Fiscal Year 2020-2021 Milestones
- On Thursday, May 20, the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC) was signed into statute by Governor Jared Polis. While the OREC office has been in existence since 2015, the bill signing ensures there will always be people to steward Colorado’s outdoor economy and protect its finite resources.
- Facilitated and supported 8 Regional Outdoor Recreation Collaboratives to support the needs of rural communities looking to grow their outdoor recreation economies. I’m excited to welcome Craig and NW Colorado, Montrose and the Uncompahgre Valley, and Trinidad and the Spanish Peaks regions to our growing network.
- Appointed to the Inter-Agency Conservation and Recreation Council to support the Colorado Outdoor Regional Partnerships Initiative by ensuring collaboration among State agencies whose work impacts outdoor recreation and conservation of natural resources.
- Tasked to serve as the outdoor recreation lead for the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative (RMRI). The OREC Office specifically supports RMRI’s marquee project in Southwest Colorado working to establish a feasible process for creating ecologically resilient landscapes, supporting local livelihoods and allowing communities to live and recreate safely with wildfire.
- Ongoing contribution to the development of workforce development programs and curriculum across Colorado, and advised degree and certificate programs focused on the outdoor recreation industry.
- Managed an annual Graduate Capstone project through CU Boulder’s Masters of the Environment Program.
- The 2020 project created a methodology for assessing the impacts of outdoor recreation, with a specific focus on the Dolores River Region of SW Colorado.
- The 2021 project is examining the opportunities for outdoor recreation in NW Colorado, specifically focusing on Moffat County as the community transitions away from extractive industry.
- Elected to Co-chair the Confluence of States Coalition to help coordinate 13 State OREC Divisions in taking collective action on federal policies that impact the outdoor rec industry nationwide.
- Ongoing service as a delegate of the Confluence of States within the National Governors Association Outdoor Recreation Learning Network.
With a strong foundation put in place during a difficult year, we move into the next several months eager to welcome a new Program Manager position to the OREC Office, and eager to engage our industry advisors in executing a new strategic vision for Colorado’s outdoor industry. Thank you for your continued support of the OREC Office and Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy. Wishing you all a happy and safe 4th of July!