COILSx showcases outdoor industry in Breckenridge on Friday |

COILSx showcases outdoor industry in Breckenridge on Friday

Outdoor enthusiasts, business leaders, conservationists and elected officials gathered at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge on Friday at the second annual regional gathering of the Colorado Outdoor Industry Leadership Summit, or COILSx. The conference brought together people from across the state and country with an interest in the outdoor recreation economy and preservation of the environment that drives it.

Amy Kemp, a member of the newly launched Mountain Outdoor Recreation Alliance, opened the session to laud mountain communities and business leaders for their efforts in growing the outdoor recreation industry in Colorado.

“The outdoor industry leaders here have done such a good job in producing innovation, and the rest of the country looks to the Rocky Mountain region for leadership in the industry,” Kemp said.

Luis Benitez, director of Colorado’s relatively new Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, reminded the group about why they chose this profession and why they attended the event.

“Why do we fight for what we fight for?” Benitez asked. “Because you believe what I believe: that our wildlands are worth promoting, preserving and protecting.”

Benitez added that his department and outdoor leaders work toward one of the core freedoms outlined in America’s Declaration of Independence.

“We help Americans with the pursuit of happiness, that’s how we serve our country.”

Sam Searles, director of marketing and consumer insights for the Outdoor Industry Association, followed with a presentation about the state of the outdoor recreation industry, which provides economic growth and jobs in the the recreation, hospitality, transport and service industries. Searles said that the industry had become a major economic driver locally and nationally, producing $887 billion in consumer spending nationwide and $28 billion in Colorado last year, while also supporting 7.6 million jobs across the country. She added that the industry produced over $124 billion in federal and state tax revenue.

“The outdoor recreation industry made up 2 percent of national GDP, and is the fastest growing industry for any other sector,” Searles said.

Searles said that Colorado as a whole was a powerhouse in the industry, and that the Second Congressional District in particular was a big generator of revenue.

Rep. Jared Polis, congressman for the district, was the keynote speaker for the event. Polis touted his efforts to get Congress to pass the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Act, which would protect 90,000 acres of wildland as well as create a historical designation for the original training grounds of the 10th Mountain Division.

“The bill will protect wild areas from the ground up,” Polis said. “There is a lot of interest in preserving wild areas in perpetuity. There are many reasons to pass the bill, including promoting the recreation industry, preserving water quality, recognizing the military legacy of the 10th Mountain Division, and supporting local jobs and economy.”

Polis later spoke to supporters, including County Commissioners Thomas Davidson and Dan Gibbs, during a campaign event at Downstairs at Eric’s, fielding questions about a range of issues from marijuana to health care and climate change.

Polis pointed to his record in Congress as evidence of his concerns on balancing the needs of affordable housing and population growth against the desire to keep our open spaces wild. Specifically, he cited his work in getting the Lake Hill Administrative Site Affordable Housing Act passed in Congress.

“The Lake Hill project transferred a bunch of land unusable as open space from the Forest Service to Summit County for affordable housing, and provided a great model for how we can continue to find solutions to the affordable housing crisis,” Polis said. “On the other hand, the Continental Divide act, if passed, would be an example of how we can protect vast swathes of our wilderness from future development. As governor, I intend to continue the kind of partnerships that promote sustainable economic growth while protecting our environment.”

Polis also addressed the issue of the treatment of ski and seasonal workers in the outdoor recreation industry who come to Summit to work during busy seasons, but are often faced with difficult work and living conditions.

“This isn’t an issue unique to Summit, it’s a problem across the country,” Polis said. “I’d support initiatives that increase local minimum wages, provide more incentives and bonuses for ski workers, like stock options. I’m also always in support of more organized labor initiatives, as well as efforts to enforce existing safety and labor laws.”

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