Colorado has a lot to offer in terms of outdoor recreation and industry service providers, and for these reasons, manufacturers find the state a welcoming place to prosper while enjoying the quality of life Colorado communities provide. As rural communities seek opportunities to diversify their economies, the outdoor recreation industry should be considered. Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry accounts for $9.6 billion in consumer spending annually and contributed 120,000 direct jobs in 2020.
One Colorado community in the midst of diversifying its economy is Craig, CO, in Moffat County. In 2021, the county was the focus of a graduate student capstone project completed by the University of Colorado Boulder Masters of the Environment (MENV) program in partnership with the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC). The project analyzed the future of Moffat County’s outdoor recreation economy.
Over the course of several months, the student team worked with the Moffat County community to learn from stakeholders and determine what makes the area unique, as well as the future they envision for the area. The goal of the program was to create a replicable process to promote economic growth through outdoor recreation in Moffat County that is community-led and prioritized community values and long-term goals.
Using qualitative and quantitative research methods, the team was able to map the region’s outdoor recreation assets, identify opportunities and challenges, and develop economic indicators to measure the current and future success and sustainability of the county’s outdoor recreation industry. To conclude the program, the findings were gathered and presented by the MENV team in a StoryMap titled Choose Your Own Adventure: Outdoor Recreation Opportunities in Moffat County, CO. The team also created a promotional video that Moffat County can use as it courts outdoor recreation businesses considering a relocation or starting up in the area.
As a result of the initiative in Moffat County with MENV, OREC now has a framework to help Colorado communities define and establish their identity in the outdoor recreation economy and can more readily help towns and counties showcase their unique qualities to potential investors. OREC is applying this strategy to support communities participating in the state’s Rural Technical Assistance Program (RTAP), re-launching in 2022.
In 2021, the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade (OEDIT) transformed its Blueprint 2.0 program into the three-phase Rural Technical Assistance Program (RTAP) administered by the Rural Opportunity Office, a division of OEDIT. The new program provides technical assistance, consulting, and funding to rural communities to facilitate the creation and implementation of economic development strategies. RTAP also helps rural communities understand the economic development tools available to them through each of the three phases of the program: 1.) Education, 2.) Technical Outreach and 3.) Implementation.
All rural communities are eligible for the first phase of RTAP, education, and new, thematic curriculum materials will be added and enhanced on a quarterly basis. The program materials are being refined and uploaded to the new online learning management system and will be available to all rural communities in the spring of 2022. Included in the Outdoor Recreation curriculum is the asset mapping approach developed to assist Moffat County, and this fundamental tool will be available to communities looking to partner with OREC and grow their outdoor recreation economies. The second program phase, technical outreach, is competitive and applicants are reviewed and selected twice a year. Communities that complete the second phase are immediately transitioned to the third and final phase, implementation, and, based on the project, will receive additional support through consulting and implementation funding in the form of grants, matching funds or other incentives.