Vermont Business Magazine The Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance applauds Governor Scott’s bold and balanced vision for growing Vermont’s outdoor recreation economy. Unveiled in his FY22 budget address, the governor’s proposed outdoor recreation investments represent an economic recovery strategy that uses one-time funds to shore up infrastructure in communities across the state, anchor ongoing economic growth, and strengthen Vermont’s brand, which will benefit Vermonters for years to come.
The proposed investments include:
- $5 million to expand the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC) Community Grant program;
- $5 million to improve access to state lands and trail networks;
- $10.6 million in capital improvements of State Park infrastructure;
- $1 million to build and repair rustic cabins in State Parks; and
- $1 million to promote and market Vermont.
The outdoor recreation economy is an interlinking eco-system of commerce, infrastructure, and participation. We think the Governor’s outdoor recreation proposal recognizes this critical balance, and will contribute to healthy lands and waters, active communities, engaged employees, valued companies, and the long-term stability of Vermont’s economy.
The Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance represents 75 members ranging from global industry leaders like Darn Tough, Burton, and Orvis to small businesses like SAM’s Outdoor Outfitters and Timber & Stone. The pandemic demonstrated the value of outdoor recreation for mental and physical health benefits, as participation in outdoor activities in Vermont and across the country soared. The Green Mountain Club reported that the average daily use count on the Long Trail was up 35% last season and overnight shelter use up 80%.
Because of increased participation in outdoor recreation, some of Vermont’s outdoor sector businesses, particularly specialty outdoor retailers and equipment manufacturers, will emerge from the pandemic in a solid financial position. However, many others that rely on visitors and group travel such as guiding services and recreation event companies continue to be financially challenged. Like the tourism sector with which they are intertwined, they face a long road ahead.
Increased use means trail erosion and infrastructure degradation, which is why we are pleased to see in the Governor’s proposal a strong commitment to stewardship as well as safe and equitable access to outdoor activities. These investments will expand Vermont’s outdoor recreation assets and trail networks on public and private land in ways that are sustainable, improve services, and expand participation by diverse communities. Additionally, local, small businesses will be contracted for construction, furthering our economic recovery. Vermont’s outdoor-related non-profit organizations will receive much-needed funding to manage recreation assets and build capacity to execute their responsibilities in managing private-public partnerships and landowner relationships fundamental to accessing many of Vermont’s outdoor places.
Communities across Vermont will reap the benefits of these investments, too. The significant expansion of the VOREC Community Grants will support towns and their community partners in creating dozens of local- and regional-scale outdoor recreation projects that will spur economic growth in rural regions. In 2018, the legislature seeded the VOREC Community Grant program with an initial $100,000 investment, and added an additional $200,000 the following year. The grant requests received totaled $2.4 million, nearly ten times the $300,000 amount available. The grant program enabled nine communities across Vermont to develop “outdoor hubs” linking recreation infrastructure to downtown centers and local businesses in hospitality and retail. These emerging “outdoor recreation friendly” communities – like Newport, Randolph, Poultney, and Rockingham – are able to leverage the grant funding for promotion as an outdoor recreation destination.
Such investments don’t just reward individual communities, they benefit all Vermonters. The Vermont outdoor recreation economy is a big driver in the state’s overall economic growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data from 2019, outdoor recreation in Vermont contributed 5.2% to state GDP, the second highest of any state in the nation. Between 2012 and 2017, the sector was growing faster (+15%) than the overall Vermont economy (+3%). A robust outdoor sector translates to jobs, taxpayers, and tax revenue, and is vital to Vermont’s rural economy.
Investments in our outdoor recreation economy also bolster Vermont’s efforts to increase its workforce. Vermont’s abundant and varied recreation opportunities are a valuable asset to employers in attracting talent or offering remote work opportunities, entrepreneurs looking to establish new businesses, and outdoor enthusiasts looking to work and play here. Many people from urban areas migrated to Vermont during the pandemic. In a survey of people who had relocated to Vermont during the pandemic conducted by the Vermont Futures Project and UVM’s Center for Research on Vermont Office of Engagement, access to nature and the outdoors was cited as a reason for living in Vermont by 70% of respondents.
The Governor’s proposed outdoor recreation investments will ensure that we land on the other side of the pandemic with a backpack full of the values Vermonters cherish: healthy lands and waters, thriving communities, a strengthened and diversified economy, and resilient and healthy people.
Kelly Ault is the Executive Director of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance.
Board members are:
Drew Simmons, Pale Morning Media, Chair, and founding member of VOREC
Michael Schmidt, Velocity Sales and Marketing, Vice Chair
Lisa Lynn, Vermont Sports & VT Ski+Ride Magazines, Secretary, and former Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development
Jordan Jiskra, Burton Snowboards, Treasurer
Corinne Prevot, Skida Headwear & Accessories
Greg Manning, GM Consulting
Laura McLaughlin, Outdoor Industry Manager
Marc Sherman, Outdoor Gear Exchange and founding member of VOREC
Mark Yardley, Darn Tough Vermont
Miguel Reda, Outdoor Gear Exchange
TJ Whalen, Consumer Brand and Business Executive
Wendy Knight, Strategic Communications Executive and founding member of VOREC
Source: 1.28.2021 Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance www.vermontoutdoorbusinessalliance.org