Grant money aims to spur workforce development in outdoor industry – The Durango Herald
State office encourages job creation and infrastructure development
The Office of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry is trying to promote outdoor job creation and infrastructure development through the Colorado State Outdoor Recreation Grant.
OREC members discussed the grant application process Wednesday at the office of the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs.
The grant provides $3.9 million for projects related to economic development and recovery in the outdoor recreation industry. The Colorado Office of the Outdoor Recreation Industry began accepting applications June 1 and will continue to do so through December 31, 2025. Applications are reviewed quarterly on the last day of the month and the next Application deadline is September 30.
“The bigger goal is simply job creation, job growth and workforce development,” said OREC Director Conor Hall.
The grant awards $100,000 to $1 million for infrastructure projects and $10,000 to $100,000 for all other projects. Other projects eligible to receive grants are: land acquisition, job retention, capital improvements, technical assistance, professional development and marketing.
Examples of these projects include trail improvements, promotional marketing and training for the outdoor recreation workforce.
Due to Economic Development Administration restrictions, the grant is not eligible for individuals, private businesses, other federal agencies, or projects taking place on federal lands.
Hall said the outdoor industry has created $5 billion in total annual economic contribution and 53,000 jobs in southwestern Colorado, but he understands there are still labor issues in the outdoor sector.
He said the grant alone would not change the labor struggle, but it could help create an influx of job opportunities.
“Hopefully this grant can provide more job opportunities. Maybe it’s money to increase the salary, make it go up a bit more,” he said. “But we want to see the creation of new jobs.”
Hall said inflation also had a major impact on the outdoor industry and the ability to retain employees.
Hall hopes the grant can help Colorado manage and overuse the trails. While the grant may not be able to stop the mistreatment of trails, he said investing in communication for outdoor best practices would benefit areas such as southwestern Colorado.
“Out of state people, new users and tourists may need a little education like we all do,” he said. “And so, that’s where we’re probably going to make the most progress, is with a close partnership with the Colorado Office of Tourism and the Care for Colorado Coalition.”
Project manager Matt Nunez said the office received most of its high-priced infrastructure project applications. About two-thirds of the requests received were for infrastructure, he said.
“The biggest metric we will assess is economic impact and job creation,” Nunez said. “We understand that the number of jobs created is relative to the community.”
Hall said the number of large infrastructure requests speaks to the state’s demand for such projects. Due to the pandemic, Colorado has seen an increase in visitors, he said.
“The price of building a few miles of trail or building a whitewater park somewhere is just that big,” Hall said. “Since the pandemic, we have had up to hundreds of thousands of visitors. We therefore need these assets more than ever.