Following Utah’s lead, Colorado’s new Outdoor Recreation Industry Office a positive step

By Bart Taylor | Jun 09, 2015

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I've written how Brad Petersen, director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation is using lifestyle to recruit and retain outdoor brands. Petersen was appointed after Utah passed legislation in 2011 creating the Office and today, several outcomes suggest the decision was incredibly positive for Utah and the region.

For one, Petersen has set a precedent for using the office to bring together disparate voices to craft solutions that benefit recreation, business and economic development interests. The Office has also been a key ally for communities like Ogden that are busy attracting new companies by selling them on a compelling vision involving outdoor industry clusters.

Utah’s collective mission to fully leverage its outdoor recreation brand is also having a regional impact. Last week, Colorado's Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) took a similar step that also has the potential to help the state's growing community of lifestyle and consumer manufacturers. Following Utah's lead, OEDIT has established the nation's second Outdoor Recreation Industry Office with Luis Benitez as its first-ever director.

The mission of Outdoor Recreation is to "provide a central point of contact, advocacy, resources and support at the state level for the diverse constituents, businesses, communities and groups that rely on the continued health of the Outdoor Recreation Industry," according to the press release detailing the office's launch.

It sounds much like Utah’s charge, and the man selected to lead the fledgling office, Luis Benitez, has similar recreation chops as the uber-active Petersen. I spoke briefly with him after the announcement last week, the day before he left for Ecuador to advocate for industry investment, and, of course, participate in an expedition to climb the country's iconic Cotopaxi.

Both states are interested in brand extension to create far-reaching economic impact. In comments to me, Benitez is focused initially on how the state's outdoor and recreation assets can benefit any company doing business here or that would locate in Colorado. "We're selling the lifestyle attributes of our outdoor industry, and really trying to focus on the entire life cycle of a company and how they might make a difference in areas like workforce," he says.

Benitez cites "stewardship" as a core mission, something he's no stranger to in his hometown of Eagle, Colorado, where he's on city council. Mountain communities have been out front in developing effective, collaborative strategies that benefit all stakeholders including business. “This office will be the start of creating not only the collective voice for the outdoor community in our state, but also starting to craft the collaborative vision for the future of the Outdoor Recreation Industry in Colorado,” Benetiz said.

I asked Benitez how the office would be used to attract new lifestyle manufacturing companies and understandably, he's not quite sure. "That's a big question," he answers, an honest assessment from someone not even on the job yet.

To be fair, Petersen is also focused on using the office to build consensus, to align and rally competing interests to development scenarios that protect the region's lifestyle attributes as they provide economic lift. Using tourism or, more broadly, lifestyle, to recruit and retain companies is just one positive outcome.

But opportunity also lies in further refining the message and building cluster strategies that fully leverage the attributes of an outdoor recreation brand. Today, it's local communities and industry leading the way, like Ogden, where the city's inventive mayor, Mike Caldwell, is using outdoor recreation and the regional lifestyle brand to build a cycling industry cluster. Manufacturers, like carbon frame maker ENVE Composites, who resisted the move overseas to join most other cycling OEMs, lead the way. The strategy is now a magnet for related lifestyle companies and related composite manufacturing. Colorado's Osprey Packs has recently located its distribution hub in Ogden.

A challenge Benitez faces is navigating his own economic development blueprint, Colorado’s 'key industry' framework, an organization that leaves outdoor-related manufacturing businesses scattered through Tourism, Creative Industries, and Food and Ag. Both states would do well to elevate ‘Manufacturing’ to key industry status – and from there bring resources to bear from across industries to help lifestyle and consumer manufacturers be more competitive, to make more stuff domestically.

The region’s development opportunity around outdoor recreation business is unmatched. Even though both states still view each other through a competitive lens, Colorado’s move to emulate Utah’s prescient decision to optimize sustainable commerce around outdoor recreation sends the right message. Outdoor and lifestyle-centric companies looking to launch or relocate need look no further than the Rocky Mountain/Wasatch corridor.