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Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) shows support of the outdoor businesses in his state with the creation of VOREC (Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative).
Vermont is home to roughly 60 specialty retail shops and 30 outdoor brands. Close to 200 more businesses in the Green Mountain State are also linked to outdoor rec. It’s a $2.6 billion industry that represents 10 percent of Vermont’s GDP and about 34,000 jobs.
This week Gov. Phil Scott, who took office in January, announces the formation of VOREC, the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative. The group will be led by Michael Snyder, Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation, and will include 13 members representing private, nonprofit, and government entities with stakes in the outdoor industry.
The goals of the group are simple, and similar to those of other states with official government outdoor rec offices: Colorado, Washington, and Utah: To grow outdoor rec businesses in Vermont, which will, in turn, bring all kinds of other businesses to the state, says Snyder.
“We are not jumping on the bandwagon here,” says Snyder. “This is a Vermont-scale approach to accomplishing the same goals as the other states [who have outdoor rec offices]. We’re small, we can’t afford a lot of new positions. Creating a new government office won’t work here at this time, and we don’t need another level of bureaucracy.” Snyder says that VOREC might actually be a better solution, though it doesn’t preclude the eventual creation of such an office.
The collaborative is a creative approach that leverages the existing assets that Vermont has always held dear: a vast network of recreational land and a population that’s passionate about living “a vigorous outdoor life.”
It all began on a beautiful day in the backcountry of Vermont when Snyder, Hal Ellms of the rep agency Pinnacle Outdoor Group, and several others were on a ski tour. They began talking about the future of Vermont and how to grow outdoor recreation. “When people embrace the ‘it’s good to be outside’ ethic, a whole cascade of good things begin to happen,” he says.
Drew Simmons (president/founder of Pale Morning Media, the Waitsfield, Vermont-based public relations firm), has been at the forefront of the campaign to engage the government to help grow outdoor rec in his state. In April 2016, he helped organize a meeting between forty members of the outdoor industry and the state’s legislators to lobby for the creation of an Outdoor Recreation Director role in Vermont state government.
At the time, Simmons called it an uphill climb and part of a long-term process. A year later, he says, “It’s extremely satisfying to see how far this process has come in a relatively short time.”
“It’s really important to note that while our lower case ‘outdoor industry coalition’ has only been together for a year or so, the reality is that there are thousands of people who’ve been driving the outdoor economy in Vermont for years and years — trail builders, entrepreneurs, and other passionate advocates for the outdoor experience — who really deserve the credit in this process. They’re the ones who have built the Vermont outdoor recreation economy, and the sincere hope is that this process will create more opportunities for them as well as the entire state,” Simmons says.
With the approval of Gov. Scott, Snyder will immediately appoint a 13-person core team consisting of himself, someone from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD), up to five representatives from private companies, two from the Vermont Trails and Greenways Council, one from a Vermont nonprofit conservation organization, one representing motorized recreation, one representing non-motorized recreation, and three representatives from other Vermont nonprofit recreation organizations.
Aside from Snyder and Simmons, who will undoubtedly be part of VOREC’s core team, several other members of the outdoor community have been active in the process and are likely to be involved as part of the core team, or in advising the core team: Ted Manning (Ibex), Bill Supple (Mammut), Marc Sherman (Outdoor Gear Exchange), Andrew Brewer (Onion River Sports), Adam Howard (Height of Lands/Backcountry/Alpinist), and Hal Ellms (Pinnacle Outdoor Group).
Later this summer, VOREC will hold a two-day strategy session to bring stakeholders together to officially launch the collaborative and start charting the course.
“We will hit the ground running and build this plane while we fly,” says Snyder. “The hard part will be winnowing this initial group down to 45 friends because I know there are a lot of Vermonters who want to be part of this. It’s a good problem to have.”