Group looking to grow outdoor industry’s $200M contribution to local economy
A physically fit, standing room-only crowd of more than 100 enterprising recreationists — drawn by free food, free beer and a desire to display their economic muscle — gathered at a downtown hotel last week to launch the Outdoor Recreation Coalition, a new trade group made up of local businesses with a stake in the fast-growing outdoors economy.
Representing at least 50 local ventures, the coalition’s goal is to multiply the estimated $200 million that outdoor recreation contributes to the Grand Valley each year, said Sarah Shrader, co-owner of Bonsai Design, who spoke at the meeting.
Bonsai, one of several local businesses spearheading the coalition, is based in Grand Junction. It sells “turnkey adventure business solutions” in the form of zip lines and other services and products.
The launch party Thursday brought city and county officials together with economic development strategists and outdoor recreation capitalists to hear a panel discussion by industry insiders. Getting stakeholders together with policymakers was a key reason for the event, said Robin Brown, events management director for the Grand Junction Business Improvement District.
“The idea for this is, (the) Grand Junction Economic Partnership, the Grand Junction Area Chamber, Mesa County commissioners — all these people will build relationships so that when funding decisions happen, when grants come up, they know we have subject matter experts who can help them make decisions,” Brown said.
“I think this is the perfect example of getting communities to decide what they want to be and then (finding ways for) the state to facilitate that,” said Ken Gart, co-owner of Powderhorn Mountain Resort. Gart took part in the panel discussion Thursday. He was named the state’s unofficial bike czar by Gov. John Hickenlooper last spring.
“I do think there (are) lost opportunities here,” Gart said. “Look at Moab. Grand Junction is so poised to be a national leader on this kind of stuff.”
Calling recreation-related businesses a “primary local economic contributor,” Shrader said the coalition will spread the word about Grand Valley recreational opportunities and work with policymakers to promote and grow the industry.
“(Shrader) loves the outdoors, of course, as we all do, but she also has a business that she runs here. She kind of wants everybody to know that recreation is a big business in this community,” said Laura Peters, a Bonsai spokeswoman who helped organize the event.
Several studies support the claim, including the 2014 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, which showed outdoor recreation in the northwest part of the state supports — both directly and indirectly — a total of 92,000 jobs that pay more than $3.2 million in wages each year.
Outdoor recreation generates $9.2 million in gross economic output for northwestern Colorado and contributes around $700,000 to the region’s local tax base, state officials reported.
“An estimated 3.4 million adults — 90 percent of adult residents — engaged in at least one outdoor recreation activity in 2012,” the plan said. “Trail activities were the most popular, with nearly 83 percent of adults participating.”
Adventure races and ski competitions are also important contributors. The USA Pro Cycling Challenge, for example, contributed $83.5 million in economic impact to the state during a one-week period, when more than one million spectators lined roads around the state to watch.
The state recreation plan does not measure the economic impact of recreation-related manufacturing on the local economy. It focuses instead on day-to-day spending by recreationists.
The coalition also has calculated the economic contribution of local outdoor product manufacturers and service providers, like Bonsai Design and chairlift-maker Leitner-Poma, to come up with an estimate of the overall economic impact, Brown said.
“Nobody’s ever really looked at those hard numbers like this before,” she said.
One of the contributors to Thursday’s event was The Hot Tomato in Fruita. The owners of the popular Fruita pizza restaurant said their business prospers in part because of the people who eat there after recreating.
“We were invited to do the food, plus we wanted to be a part of it,” said Anne Keller, speaking for her business partner, Jen Zeuner, who was standing nearby. “I think this is a really exciting thing for the valley. This is something we believe in because we both see the benefit of it.
“We get tourist traffic from out of state, out of town, out of the country — all the people converging on this valley is because of the trails and we get a direct benefit from that,” Keller said.
Tony Uriguen, general manager at Colorado Backcountry Biker, agreed.
“I want there to be a lot of people promoting outdoor (activities) in the valley,” Uriguen said. “This valley has a lot to offer anybody who is outdoors. I moved here 11 years ago because of it.”
Colorado Backcountry Biker is a full-service bike shop that also rents bicycles and conducts hut-to-hut mountain bike tours, he said.
The coalition grew out of a smaller group of area business leaders who took part in an outdoor recreation focus group for the North Star Destination Strategies study on economic development that was published earlier this year, Brown said.
“That group had such a great discussion that afterward the members went out for a beer,” she said. “They just kept meeting to kind of show how strong they are to the local economy.”