The Western Slope’s outdoor recreation economy had everything but a bachelor’s degree. Colorado Mesa is changing that.
Sarah Shrader, the co-owner of the Grand Junction-based international zipline course developer and builder Bonsai Design, in November gathered a team of Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry executives. She had a simple question: What do they need from the next generation of outdoor industry leaders?
The answers they gave — a robust grasp of the outdoor industry as well as legislation and policy issues, the ability to read a financial statement and build a budget, and professional communication skills — became the basis for a unique, multi-disciplinary outdoor recreation industry studies program announced this week at Colorado Mesa University.
“The outdoor recreation industry is such a large part of the Colorado GDP and it has a profound impact on rural communities,” said Shrader, the program director for the new CMU studies program. She also founded and leads the local Outdoor Recreation Coalition, which gathers local residents and businesses to promote outdoor recreation as an economic engine and path to a healthier community. “The outdoor recreation economy can be the lifeline for rural communities trying to reinvent themselves.”
The Grand Valley economy is growing despite a slowdown in the region’s dominant oil and gas industry. Sales tax collections in Mesa County topped $38.5 million in 2019, up from $36.1 million in 2018. The county’s unemployment rate is dropping and the number of jobs is increasing even as oil and gas drilling contracts and major energy employers, like Halliburton, lay off workers.
“The economy is really turning around as we become a more diversified, sustainable, recreation-based economy,” Shrader said. “As the diversification continues, we will see poverty drop, unemployment drop, graduation rates go up, suicide rates go down and community health go up. It’s been an honor to be a part of this.”
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