As part of the state’s efforts to find cash during the novel coronavirus pandemic, sweeping cuts have been proposed to the budget and staff of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT).
The office may not be familiar to many, but OEDIT houses programs that support some of our state’s most important economic drivers, including tourism, the outdoor industry and research and development intensive advanced industries such as the biosciences.
The industries supported by OEDIT provide jobs to nearly three-quarters of a million Coloradans, and for every dollar spent by OEDIT to promote Colorado, $476 in revenue are brought into the state.
Undoubtedly the state has hard choices to make as it balances a budget during the pandemic-induced economic downturn, but in our haste to balance budgets we shouldn’t commit the error of cutting the programs that generate revenue for our businesses and state and local governments.
Jobs are essential, and these cuts will fall particularly hard on the tourism and outdoor recreation jobs that have become a cornerstone of the thriving, diversified economies of many rural Colorado communities.
Coloradans have turned to the state’s bountiful nature for solace, rejuvenation and recreation during the pandemic. When Zoom calls and distance learning screens become too much, families are seeking out respite playing in creeks, meadows and on trails.
Playing outdoors lifts the health and spirits of our families and neighbors – and Colorado’s great outdoors will help lift our economy as well.
In Colorado we understand that outdoor recreation is more than play – it is one of our state’s largest economic sectors. Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy generates $37 billion in consumer spending annually.
The industry currently supports 511,000 jobs in Colorado – 19% of all jobs in the state.
That amounts to over $21 billion in wages and salaries for workers and $9 billion in state and local tax revenue. With travel restrictions slowly being eased and sporting events, concerts and other entertainment still shuttered, outdoor recreation and tourism will offer some of the first opportunities for rural communities to put business and neighbors back to work.
In addition to generating revenues and jobs, OEDIT’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry coordinates efforts across multiple agencies and organizations to keep Colorado’s great outdoors great.
Our public lands are under immense pressure from the unprecedented surge of visitation they are experiencing during the pandemic. Now is a poor time to make cuts that threaten the programs and staff working to prevent our state’s natural treasures from becoming victims of the virus.
Cuts will be needed across the budgets of all state agencies, including to OEDIT’s budget. As the Joint Budget Committee goes about its difficult work, we simply ask that the JBC work more closely with OEDIT staff to craft smart cuts that will allow the office to continue serving the state’s businesses and their employees.
The efforts of OEDIT that generate revenue and jobs are essential to responding to the crisis today and will help lift us from the economic downturn in the months and years ahead.
Sarah Shrader is owner of Bonsai Design, a world-class aerial adventure course design/build firm based in Grand Junction. Ken Gart has been a partner at The Gart Companies since its inception in 1992.