Grant cash seeks to spice up workforce growth in out of doors trade – The Durango Herald


State Office promotes the creation of jobs, infrastructure development

Matt Nunez, project manager for the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, listens to questions about the Colorado State Outdoor Recreation Grant while other community members mingle. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office seeks to encourage outdoor job creation and infrastructure development through the Colorado State Outdoor Recreation Grant.

OREC members discussed the grant application process Wednesday at the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs office.

The grant provides $3.9 million for projects related to economic development and recreation in the outdoor recreation industry. The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office began accepting applications on June 1 and will continue to do so until December 31, 2025. Applications are reviewed every three months on the last day of the month and the next application deadline is September 30th.

“The biggest goal is just 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 the grants are: land acquisition, job preservation, capital improvements, technical assistance, professional development and marketing.

Examples of these projects include trail improvements, promotional marketing and training for recreational outdoor workers.

Due to Department of Economic Development restrictions, the grant is not eligible for individuals, private companies, other federal agencies, or state projects.

Hall said the outdoor industry has generated a total annual contribution of $5 billion and 53,000 jobs in Southwest Colorado, but he understands there are still labor issues in the outdoor sector.

He said the grant alone will not change the labor struggle but can help create an influx of job opportunities.

“Hopefully this scholarship can provide more employment opportunities. Maybe it’s some money that’s used to increase the salary, top it up a little bit more,” he said. “But we want to see the creation of new jobs.”

Hall said inflation is also having a major impact on the outdoor industry and ability to retain employees.

Hall hopes the grant can help Colorado with trail management and overuse. Although the grant may not be able to stop trail abuse, he said investments in communications for best outdoor practices would benefit areas like southwest Colorado.

“People in the state, new users and tourists may need a little education, as do we all,” he said. “And this is probably where we will make the most progress by working closely with the Colorado Bureau of Tourism and the Care for Colorado Coalition.”

Project Manager Matt Nunez said the office has received most of its requests for high-priced infrastructure projects. About two-thirds of the inquiries received were related to infrastructure, he said.

“The biggest metric we’re going to evaluate is economic impact and job creation,” Nunez said. “We understand that the number of jobs created is in proportion to the community.”

Hall said the volume of large infrastructure requests speaks to the state’s demand for such projects. Because of the pandemic, Colorado has seen an increase in visitor numbers, he said.

“The price of putting in a few miles of hiking trail or putting up a whitewater park somewhere is just significant,” Hall said. “Since the pandemic, we have had up to hundreds of thousands of visitors. So we need these assets more than ever.”

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