Colorado outdoor office maps collective voice Newly appointed director to begin state listening tour

Colorado is upping its game when it comes to promotion of the outdoor industry, which generates $4.2 billion in wages and salaries for the state.

Gov. John Hickenlooper created the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office in June, appointing Luis Guillermo Benitez as its first director. Some viewed the move as a response to other states attempts to steal some of Colorado’s thunder — and companies — with aggressive economic-development efforts aimed at the industry.

Benitez

Benitez said that, as big as the industry is in Colorado, it still has a lot of room to grow. He’s gearing up to start a listening tour across the state to get input from people in the industry and people who are part of the community.

From there, Benitez’s office will carve out a strategy to bring new outdoor-recreation business into the state and to support those already here.

“Colorado is in a strong position to lead the outdoor recreation industry on many levels, and 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,” Benitez said.

That will come as welcome news to outdoor-industry enthusiasts in Boulder and beyond, who have complained about aggressive efforts by economic developers in Utah, Oregon and elsewhere to recruit companies from the Front Range, and even to supplant Boulder as the center of the outdoor industry nationwide.

Some cities even attempted several years ago to convince executives at the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association to relocate the group’s headquarters. Instead, the OIA opted to remain in Boulder.

The outdoor industry represents a huge boon for the state. The OIA estimates that the industry supports 124,600 direct jobs in Colorado, along with $13.2 billion in consumer spending and $994 million in state and local taxes.

Benitez uses a compass as metaphor to describe the goals of his office, which is housed in the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade.

“True north is economic development for the state,” Benitez said.  “We’ll be looking at what companies are successful and why. Then we’ll look at what companies are struggling and why — asking questions like ‘how can we help them?’”

The second compass point will focus on stewardship and conservation.  One current glitch involves the process for special recreation permits through the Bureau of Land Management.

Permits are required for commercial activities and competitive events. They are designed to protect resources, ensure public health and safety and to receive monetary compensation for uses of BLM public lands.

“Prior to 2009, there was no review process for outfitters, and there were days for backcountry use that were not being used,” Benitez said.  Currently, there is a permit review every five years, which helps make unused days available to others.

“From a business standpoint, however, a new business may want to open a business and will have to wait for that review in five years.”

Supporting new businesses as well as protecting the land is the intention.

The third compass point will focus on education to, in part, understand how the state can feed future outdoor activities.  “For example, returning vets are interested in target shooting,” Benitez said.

Teaching youth about activities and turning them into outdoor-recreation patrons falls under the education goal as well.

The fourth point will focus on special projects like bringing more trade shows, races and events to the state.

Benitez brings experience as both an administrator and an outdoor recreationalist to the position, which he started July 1. He leads experiential leadership programs and has led talent-management and development for Broomfield-based Vail Resorts Inc.

Prior to that, Benitez served as director of the Rocky Mountain Region for Outward Bound Professional. He is also a six-time summiteer of Mount. Everest.

Colorado is upping its game when it comes to promotion of the outdoor industry, which generates $4.2 billion in wages and salaries for the state.

Gov. John Hickenlooper created the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office in June, appointing Luis Guillermo Benitez as its first director. Some viewed the move as a response to other states attempts to steal some of Colorado’s thunder — and companies — with aggressive economic-development efforts aimed at the industry.

Benitez

Benitez said that, as big as the industry is in Colorado, it still has a lot of room to grow. He’s gearing up to start a listening tour across the state to get input from people in the industry and people who are part of the community.

From there, Benitez’s office will carve out a strategy to bring new outdoor-recreation business into the state and to support those already here.

“Colorado is in a strong position to lead the outdoor recreation industry on many levels, and 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,” Benitez said.

That will come as welcome news to outdoor-industry enthusiasts in Boulder and beyond, who have complained about aggressive efforts by economic developers in Utah, Oregon and elsewhere to recruit companies…