MONTPELIER — On June 15 of this year, Gov. Phil Scott issued Executive Order 11-17, creating the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative.
While the collaborative is an unfunded mandate, there is enthusiasm among the members that it will have a positive impact on Vermont’s outdoor economy.
While individual sectors of the outdoor economic community have pursued the goal of bringing new and expanded business opportunities to the state through promotion of the landscape and gear to accommodate its use, little has been done to bring all those interests and energies together.
One stated goal of the collaborative is to provide a platform for collective focus for accomplishing major goals of growing the state’s economy by leveraging, sustaining and enhancing the outdoor recreation culture, which is such a significant part of the Vermont brand.
The collaborative consists of fifteen members, drawn from state government as well as the outdoor recreation industry, nonprofits, the Vermont Trails and Greenways Council, and two “at large” members with experience in other Vermont economic development initiatives. The committee is charged with reporting to the governor on its progress every September.
When he announced the initiative at the Waterbury Center State Park, Scott said, “In this setting, we are reminded that Vermont’s landscape of forests, farms and communities and their associated outdoor recreation opportunities are a big reason why people choose to live, visit and work in Vermont,” according to a news release.
Forests, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael Snyder envisions a series of regional summits to seek input from stakeholders and create a platform of initiatives and policy suggestions. “We want to sustain, maintain, grow and leverage our outdoor recreation assets and opportunities for further economic growth by attracting businesses that enhance our brand and a workforce that uses our assets to their advantage,” he said.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association 2017 National Outdoor Recreation Economy Report, outdoor recreation activities in New England added $51.5 billion dollars in income, 432,000 jobs, $4.1 billion in federal tax revenues, and $3.5 billion dollars in state and local tax revenues. Figures for Vermont were not broken out.
The same report cites studies that demonstrate outdoor recreation delivers personal and social benefits on which healthy, happy communities thrive, in addition to economic benefit.
Ted Manning, CEO of IBEX, an outdoor clothing company centered in White River Junction, put it this way, “I believe that the conservation efforts in this state are really one of three parts of the vision. As we preserve and protect more places for outdoor recreation and access, we enable a powerful, local economy built around these sports, places and people. The stronger this economy, the more positive opportunities and solutions are brought to bear against the creation of stable and vibrant Vermont communities. … We see it here in Vermont in the (Northeast) Kingdom, Barre town forest, and the renewed Ascutney, and these are only a few.”
There is an interdependence, Manning said, between efforts to preserve access to the outdoors and the support of small businesses.
“This work, over time, could reinforce what makes Vermont special (and unique), act as (a) magnet to draw and keep outdoor-minded businesses, and create healthier (economic and physical) communities,” he said.
Drew Simmons is a voting member of the collaborative, and is the president of Pale Morning Media, a Waitsfield public relations company. He says this effort is more widespread than just Vermont.
“It’s also important to recognize that what is happening with VOREC is being done within the context of a national surge of similar efforts — North Carolina, Colorado, Washington, Montana, New Mexico and others are formalizing their outdoor industry strategies at the state level, which in all cases includes heavy recruiting of outdoor businesses to relocate. Knowing that the outdoor recreation economy is growing rapidly, nationwide, the pressure for a small business or a recent graduate to leave Vermont and head elsewhere for ‘opportunity’ can be very strong.”
Young people, he said, haven’t been hearing nearly enough about these opportunities in Vermont.
“The Vermont brand has been linked to the outdoor world for many decades — primarily as a seasonal destination — yet the business aspect of Vermont’s outdoor recreation economy hasn’t been part of that storyline,” he said.