The outdoor industry in Colorado gives Gov. John Hickenlooper credit for the stepped-up attention and support of the industry. Courtesy Evan Semón Photography, provided by the governor’s office

Hickenlooper leaves large outdoor legacy

Gov. John Hickenlooper bolstered the state’s outdoor industry from recreation to conservation, a legacy outdoor companies see Gov.-elect Jared Polis as continuing.

“He was a great champion for folks in both recreation and conservation and balancing all the needs and interests around them,” said Andrew Clurman, president and chief executive officer of Active Interest Media, a multimedia, outdoor-focused company in Boulder. “He did a balanced job of serving the interests of not just one group but by balancing the interests of the state with recreation and conservation and economic interests. … Colorado is a state with some of the most spectacular natural resources … things that need to be preserved, protected and responsibly used.”

A former small-business owner and outdoor enthusiast, Hickenlooper championed the $28 billion-a-year outdoor industry by bringing a major trade show to the state and creating several outdoor-focused governmental entities.

Hickenlooper landed the Outdoor Retailer show in Denver following political discord at its original home of Salt Lake City, Utah, merging it with the Snow Show dedicated to winter sports. The first Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Denver was in January 2018, coupled with a Summer Market in June that brings together brands and retailers in a business-to-business promotion of outdoor recreation activities and associated trends and products.

In 2015, Hickenlooper created the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, one of seven in the nation that advocates and provides resources for the outdoor industry with a focus on economic impact, conservation and stewardship, and education and workforce training. Three years later, he signed an executive order creating the Inter-Agency Trails and Recreation Council, advancing the vision of the 2015 “Colorado the Beautiful” initiative for recreational access and promoting outdoor recreation and conservation in the state.

“Gov. Hickenlooper was among the first in the nation to recognize the power of the state’s and nation’s outdoor industry. He’s the third governor to establish an outdoor recreation office,” said Alex Boian, political director of the Outdoor Industry Association, a Boulder-based trade organization for the outdoor industry. “He’s been a national leader and shining example of an elected official who sees value, sees promise and sees a return on investment in investing in the outdoor industry and outdoor recreation economy.”

Hickenlooper leaves a legacy of government investment in the outdoor recreation industry by supporting the OIA and starting the Outdoor Industry Office, said Jim Lamancusa, chief executive officer and founder of Cusa Tea in Boulder, which produces organic instant tea.

“Those two actions have done more to develop the outdoor industry in Colorado more than any other governor before him to my knowledge,” Lamancusa said. “In his tenure, there has been more attention placed on the outdoor industry. … The outdoor industry is larger than the oil and gas industry — that type of data can swing politics. … Being able to put a real dollar around it was incredible.”

The Outdoor Industry Office compiled data about the outdoor recreation economy, finding that it generates 229,000 direct jobs, $9.7 billion in wages and salaries and $28 billion in consumer spending, as stated on its website, www.outdoorindustry.org.

“Hickenlooper was critical in raising awareness of an industry that already was here,” said Gary Gomulinski, executive vice president of commercial and industrial banking for Alpine Bank in Boulder. “You have all these great outdoor companies here, encouraging people to go out and recreate and go out to play. … You can overwhelm the parks system if you’re focused on driving people to the outside to recreate. Gov. Hickenlooper brought all those parties together, so you have outdoor industry companies at the same table with people managing public lands and conservation groups preserving and protecting what makes Colorado unique.”

The state has a great deal of outdoor recreation business that wasn’t highly visible except for the ski industry, Gomulinski said. The trade show brought that business together, demonstrating the large number of companies involved in promoting the outdoors, he said.

“They’re here because Colorado is a great place to live and a great place to work. If you have an outdoor recreation company, you want your employees to be testers of your products and services,” Gomulinski said.

Hickenlooper brought national attention to the importance of protecting the state’s land, water and wildlife, while also promoting travel and tourism and attracting employers to the state that support healthy communities, Boian said.

“He wants them to have access to the outdoors and to be able to live healthy and active lifestyles,” Boian said.

Hickenlooper has the vision to see the healthy and recreational aspects of the outdoor industry while also considering the health of the outdoors and surrounding ecosystem, said Alex Hanifin, CEO of Alpine Start Foods in Boulder, which makes premium instant coffee.

“He sees the full picture,” Hanifin said. “It’s the economy for sure, bringing more jobs and growing industry, but then there’s also the outdoor component, protecting the outdoor spaces and keeping trails maintained, educating ourselves about the ecosystems and protecting them so others can enjoy them. … He’s really thinking ahead for the next generation.”

Like Hickenlooper, Polis advocated for the outdoor industry during his nine-year tenure as a U.S. representative. He launched the Outdoor Recreation Caucus in 2017 to promote policies invested in the outdoor industry, co-sponsored the Outdoor REC Act of 2016 that quantifies the effect the industry has on the nation’s economy, and introduced the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act preserving 60,000 acres of wilderness and recreational lands in Summit and Eagle counties. 

“I will very much take seriously my responsibility to be a faithful steward of our outdoor resources as well as an evangelist for growth of the outdoor tourism and recreation economy,” Polis said in a written statement for BizWest.

Polis gave his first address at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market on Nov. 8, showcasing his dedication to the outdoor industry.

“We’re optimistic he’s going to continue to support recreation and conservation, to promote recreation and promote conservation and carry on where Hickenlooper left off,” Clurman said. “We’re pretty excited about it as an industry.”

Boian expects that Polis will build on Hickenlooper’s foundation for the industry, mentioning Polis’s campaign plan, Keep Colorado Wild, to preserve the state’s public lands and support its outdoor recreation economy. 

“I expect him to continue with the preservation of Colorado’s open spaces. I would expect him to continue with the (Outdoor Industry) Office,” Lamancusa said. “He’s really thinking about protecting our environment and growing our outdoor space and industry. We look forward to seeing what Jared Polis will do to take it to the next step.”

Luis Benitez, director of the Outdoor Industry Office, considers Polis a longtime champion of the industry demonstrated by his work as a representative.

“From starting the Outdoor Recreation Caucus in Washington, D.C., as a congressman to working tirelessly on wilderness and wildlife conservation issues locally, Gov.-elect Polis has been a champion for the great outdoors when and where it matters most,” Benitez said. “He remains committed and focused on growing the diversity and inclusivity of our outdoor economy.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper bolstered the state’s outdoor industry from recreation to conservation, a legacy outdoor companies see Gov.-elect Jared Polis as continuing.

“He was a great champion for folks in both recreation and conservation and balancing all the needs and interests around them,” said Andrew Clurman, president and chief executive officer of Active Interest Media, a multimedia, outdoor-focused company in Boulder. “He did a balanced job of serving the interests of not just one group but by balancing the interests of the state with recreation and conservation and economic interests. … Colorado is a state with some of the most spectacular natural resources … things that need to be preserved, protected and responsibly used.”

A former small-business owner and outdoor enthusiast, Hickenlooper championed the $28 billion-a-year outdoor industry by bringing a major trade show to the state and creating several outdoor-focused governmental entities.

Hickenlooper landed the Outdoor Retailer show in Denver following political discord at its original home of Salt Lake City, Utah, merging it with the Snow Show dedicated to winter sports. The first Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Denver was in January 2018, coupled with a Summer Market in June that brings together brands and retailers in a business-to-business promotion of outdoor recreation activities and associated trends and products.

In 2015, Hickenlooper created the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, one of seven in the nation that advocates and provides resources for the outdoor industry with a focus on economic impact,…