Outdoor Means Business: A Conversation with Colorado's Luis Benitez

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In the latest RootsRated Labs podcast, we take a look at the unfolding battle over public lands in Utah and the fallout from the outdoor industry. We also spend time talking with the director of Colorado's Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, Luis Benitez, about looking at the outdoor industry's place in business and the economy.

Get it on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or anywhere else great podcasts can be found.

Guest

Luis Benitez, Colorado's Outdoor Recreation Industry Office

Hosts

Mark McKnight and Ana Connery

Producer

BJ Smith

Further reading (and listening)

"The Outdoor Industry Is Finally Ready to Play Political Hardball," Outside, August 2016.

The Salt Lake Tribune released the full phone call between Governor Herbert and the Outdoor Industry:

Black Diamond co-founder calls for Outdoor Retailer to leave (KSL News, Salt Lake City):

"Patagonia says it’s skipping Outdoor Retailer over Bears Ears; House Speaker isn’t backing down" (Fox 13, Salt Lake City)

"Utah’s governor to meet with outdoor leaders to talk Bears Ears, Outdoor Retailer show" (Fox 13, Salt Lake City)

"Big name outdoor companies pen exit letter to Herbert" (KUTV, Salt Lake City

"Public Land Management in the American West" (Utah Governor Gary Herbert)

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Music credits:

Music for this episode by Podington Bear & OK Ikumi.

Transcript

News announcer 1: Patagonia announced today, it's skipping the outdoor retailer summer show over the Bears Ears resolution the governor signed last week.

News announcer 2: Dozens more retailers seemed to be joining this fight against Bears Ears.

News announcer 3: Overnight, it grew from just a handful of companies to now a whole army of activists. We're talking more than triple the amount of people joining in just a 24-hour period.

News announcer 4: Founder Black Diamond Equipment Peter Metcalf says, "This lucrative trade show should go elsewhere because our state leaders opposed the Bears Ears National Monument."

News announcer 5: The Outdoor Retailer Trade Show is shopping around and leading outdoor gear manufacturers are calling for a boycott over Utah's public land stances.

Mark: Ashley recently attended the last Outdoor Retailer Show and when I was there one of my co-workers was actually turning for the first time and he was asking me, "Oh, this is so cool. Do you love this? How many times have you've been to this?" And I said, "I sort of think about it if I will. This is actually my 20th show." It took me all the way back 2007, first to travel to Salt Lake City. So it was over 10 years ago and I was a retailer and traveled specifically for this show and since then, I've really come to love Utah, before the recreation and all the outdoor opportunities but also just the hospitality and feeling of the locals there. I've skied at world class resorts and ton of them. Powder Mountains were my favorite and I've love Alta, Snowbird, Deer Valley, Brighton, Snowbasin and I'm sure there are more that I'm forgetting. I've even done the Olympic bobsled course a couple of times up at Park City which is really fun. So this point, I've spent more money and more time on vacation in Utah than I have even working all these shows.

Ana: Well, unfortunately Mark that love affair may be coming to an end. Basically on day one of the 115th Congress, there was a bill introduced and almost immediately pulled by Utah representative Jason Chaffetz. It would have disposed of 3.3 million acres of federal land. He changed this too and almost immediately, but the whole thing got a lot of people talking.

Because there's a faction inside the House of Representatives and they're certainly support forward on the right for taking public land and as they say, "Giving it back to the states." A lot of the critics are worried that that means that the land which can be really expensive to maintain and protect will end up being privatized and sold off to the highest bidder. Soon after the bill was introduced, Utah governor Gary Herbert asked the Trump administration to revoke the protected status of Bears Ears National Monument that was established by President Obama during his last days in office.

Mark: It is so disappointing to me that Utah's governor wants to, as you said, take back land that already belongs to all of us as U.S. citizens. As a result of this policy decisions, Patagonia announced that it was pulling out of the next Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City. Now, outdoor retailer has announced the trade show is leaving Utah all together.

Ana: In the wake of what the Outdoor Industry Association called I quote, "Unproductive phone call with Utah governor Herbert last week." The industry announced that Utah will not be invited to submit a bid to host the next show. Emerald Expositions who owns the show followed that up with a statement that said, "The same would be true for Interbike." The big cycling show that's thinking about leaving its long term home in Las Vegas.

Mark: Well, I can't overstate my disappointment about the show leaving Utah. It is important to note that the outdoor industry is voting with its dollars on this issue. Many of us are not Utah residents and can't influence state politics so we're doing what we can. With that said, our industry needs to rally and support the remaining contracted OR shows in Utah. Outdoor Retailer is a critical part of keeping our industry together and speaking with one voice.

Ana: Obviously, it's not easy to move a trade show like this one especially one that's been in Salt Lake for over 20 years. Brands like Aria and Ivax have called for the industry to rally around outdoor retailer for the sake of the industry, but to limit spending in Utah. There's even a pledge on Ivax’s site where individuals and corporations can signal their commitment to keeping the industry together. As the Outdoor Industry Association says, "Together we are a force."

Mark: Welcome to RootsRated Labs.

Ana: Where we explore the intersection of travel and the outdoors. I'm Ana Connery.

Mark: And I'm Mark McKnight.

It's too bad the show is set to leave Utah, but I do love Colorado. I just got back from there two days ago. If I were betting man, my money will be on Colorado to win this bid. They've been positioned themselves to become the go to state for the Outdoor Recreation Industry for years. Back in 2015, Denver voters overwhelmingly approved a 100 plus million dollar expansion of the Colorado Convention Center. Also in 2015, their governor John Hickenlooper established a new office focused on growing outdoor recreation. That's where today's guest comes into the picture.

Ana: Today we're talking with Luis Benitez, the first director of Colorado's new Outdoor Recreation Industry Office and we're gonna see why outdoor means business.

Mark: Today's show is about translating outdoor activity into tangible economic benefits for you and your business. When I first started in the outdoor industry, there was a bit of a bias against it. Almost like these are hippies and they don't have real jobs like bankers or doctors. But lately, there's been a noticeable shift and people realized that we're doing real business and the outdoor industry is finding its voice.

Ana: You're totally right, Mark. The Outdoor Industry Association even called itself a sleeping giant for quite a long time. And while I think that was true, the giant is definitely awakening.

Mark: We're gonna focus on bringing you actionable insights driven by outdoor activity but rooted 100% in business. I'm excited to introduce today's guest, Luis Benitez. As we mentioned earlier, he's the first director of Colorado's new Outdoor Recreation Industry Office.

Ana: Luis has been on the road tour talking to different states about why a position like his is so important for economic development. And I'm willing to bet that's the first time a lot of these states have even heard of an Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, let alone considered creating one. We caught up with Luis recently and talked about how the outdoor industry is finally taking its rightful place alongside other industries becoming a bona fide economic sector.

Mark: Now ironically, Colorado is the second state after Utah to create an office like this and I really do hope that states like Tennessee where I live and North Carolina where I am now or Florida where you live Ana that all of these states soon enough will have this kind of office, really watching out for the outdoor industry. But the point is, we're not just a bunch of hippies.

Ana: We are not. I mean, I live in Florida and I can tell you that without outdoor recreation and tourism, we would be nowhere. It's a major part of our economy.

Mark: I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee which has been named twice by Outside Magazine, thanks to millions of votes by readers as the best outdoor city in the nation and I've seen it boom in about 15 years that I've been there. Rock/Creek is a great example. I talked about it a lot but Rock/Creek's what brought me to Chattanooga and just a few years ago, it was tiny outdoor store and it was a bit off the radar. Obviously, a beloved place by people that live in Chattanooga, but not the kind of big deal that it is now. I mean, there are five Rock/Creek's just in Chattanooga and then now they've open a new store in Nashville as well. It's very cool what's happening and then businesses like mine, RootsRated Media. I mean, we have 25 employees now. So with all of these really important economic contributions that are coming out of the outdoor industry, we're creating jobs. We're really doing something great and exciting. But back to Luis. So according to his Outside Magazine profile, he is a former Outward Bound instructor, he’s made 32 successful attempts on the Seven Summits, six of those on Mount Everest. You have summit Mount Everest how many times?

Luis: Six times.

Mark: And so tell me how does that happen?

Luis: How it does that happen. Well, so the first time I went to Everest when I was 28 years old.

Was as a guide for Erik Weihenmayer, the blind climber. So I was on his team and one of his guides where we were lucky enough to take the only blind person to have ever climbed Everest to the summit. And then after that I started working for Alpine Ascents International out of Seattle, but then got a really amazing opportunity to take over as the Chief Operating Officer for American Operations for Adventure Consultants.

If you've read the book "Into Thin Air" or you've seen the movie, "Everest." Adventure Consultants lost their CEO on Everest in 1996 and frankly from a global brand perspective, it took a while to recover. So when I joined the company, my job was helping them get back to being a global brand, which not only entailed helping to run the company but also guiding most of the Seven Summit expeditions and getting them back to being a Seven Summits company. So that allowed me to help around the business, but also globe trot for about a decade in there which took me back to Everest every year.

Mark: One thing I'll say in talking with Luis is that I know we could get lost in his background because he's just so fascinating. He's done so many things and it was really interesting to me to hear about how he actually got to the point where he is today. Some of the people that he had guided on those big trips...

Luis: Met a lot of high-value clientele.

Mark: Who as you can imagine, these are wealthier people because they can afford to one, take the time to actually do it, but two, actually pay the prices that it takes to travel half-way across the world, get permits and then climb these big mountains.

Luis: You need to have a little bit of discretionary income.

Mark: And so he was meeting all these business leaders and people who own their own companies.

Luis: These friends who became great mentors said, "You know Luis, if you really look at it at the base-level you took a very diverse group of individuals and turned them into an intact team that pointed towards a very distinct goal and hazardous conditions with a very tight timeline, a stringent budget managing international staff and if that's not running a business, I don't know what it is."

Luis: I sort of started nodding out on organizational development and leadership development. Not a very high level and just having access to that kind of clientele and being able to do it and explore that training potential and possibility within some of their corporations. It led me down the path of working with Wharton School of Business at University of Pennsylvania and to really dive in to that leadership theory in that organizational development theory. You know focused primarily within the outdoor industry and also with the business school at Wharton. You know, what does it mean to be a good leader within our space? Because within our space you're not just talking about economic development and the dollars and cents of the industry, you're also talking about conservation and stewardship. You're also talking about education and how that impacts what you do and how you do it. So you know that left turn, it kind of incorporated in all the things that I love about the outdoor industry community, but also really started to take a more serious look at the business of what that industry stands for.

Ana: It really presented an opportunity for Luis to be among business leaders who can help him look at his industry. In this case, outdoor recreation as a bona fide business that deserves a recognition given how much it contributes to the local economies throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Mark: Exactly and it's that recognition of what outdoor recreation does for the economy that brings us back to the Outdoor REC Act. We've talked about it on this podcast at length. Maybe even too much length for some of our listeners, but without rehashing it too much, I do think Luis has some really interesting points about the Act. So remember the short version is that this is a bill that went through Congress and was unanimously supported, actually passed by unanimous consent, authorizing the Commerce Department of the United States to measure the Outdoor Recreation Economy. So it really puts numbers, concrete numbers behind what we're talking about.

Luis: It is a game changer. When you look at the outdoor industry historically, we've somewhat been a fractured, disjointed committee. You know, you've got hunting and fishing over here, biking and boating over there. You know, the nonprofits that worry about saving wildlife or preserving a river corridor. Whatever people are fighting for or focused on, they sort of stay in their own lane and their own silo and I think in large part, that's one of the reasons why we've never really been looked at in total as a collective industry because we've all kind of stayed in our lane. But the REC Act, it proposes to count all of our jobs and all of revenue towards the GDP and the hypothesis is that we could potentially be bigger than the pharmaceutical industry and the auto industry combined. Now if that's actually the case, a couple of things I think are gonna happen. A, being looked at through that collective lands I think we all realize that we're part of the same family. So you know the issues that you face are the issues that we face together and I think that sort of deepens a dialog when it comes to things like conservation and stewardship and economic development, but it also gives us a different kind of voice at the table. And you know I think one of the things that this will change, you know, just use that example I just gave you, think of all the supports systems and infrastructure for the auto industry or for the pharmaceutical industry. Think about all the different systems and processes that are out there can make sure that those economies remain strong in our country. Now imagine that level of support, interaction and dialog for the outdoor industry. I think that's a level we have yet to see and one of the things that we're gonna have to be figuring out in parallel while this counting process is going on over the next couple of years.

Mark: I can't imagine what the world would have been like if we had taught kids that making a living in the outdoors in not only possible, but it is actually a respectable profession with the variety of benefits. I mean, you're helping people connect with nature, you're helping them disconnect from all the stress, from all the over-stimulation, electronics that surround us today. Like we've talked about on this podcast several times, there's this amazing connection where you have the environment, you have mental health, you have population health, worrying obesity and there's an economy here. There's people making money. All of these benefits are happening together.

Ana: I think that's so key, Mark.

Ana: The fact that you can say you can make money doing what you love. What a great example matching up people's passions and business with opportunities to make a living in a field that's respectable. The more that the industry evolves, the more opportunities arise for people to really look at it as a bona fide career path.

Mark: And you don't have to just drop out of society that you go be a guide somewhere. As fun as that will be and that's what I have to do when I'm retired. I really grew up thinking that if you want to make a living in the outdoors, it did mean kind of opting out of mainstream culture, going off to be a ski bomb and living some \$300 a month apartment for the rest of your life. And I feel lucky that I kind of stumbled into something that quite frankly is better than that and I think there is a lot more impact to what I'm doing today.

Luis: You know, Yellowstone, such a perfect example if you will of how the political sphere has changed overtime. I mean, Theodore Roosevelt, right? One of the original staunch Republicans who developed his conservation and stewardship ethic from spending a week together with John Muir Yosemite, which then inspired him to understand and start to think about not only creating the national forest service but also how to protect and preserve Yellowstone. And he was very, very public about Yellowstone being not only a place for American citizens to go, connect with nature and recharge themselves, but he also saw that idea of tourism and eco-tourism through the wildlife lands and the big game hunting lands as a way to help support the economy of the park which is available to all. So I think going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt's time, he really saw the capacity and the potential for that construct if you do it very, very carefully and if you paid very close attention to the sort of that intersection of what we're inviting you in, but we also need to tell you exactly how you're gonna behave when you're here and we're gonna charge you for it, so we can take care of some of these other pieces that need taking care of.

Mark: I think Luis makes a really good point that's relevant to our listeners here at this intersection of outdoor and travel because Yellowstone really was designed initially almost like an amusement park, but it was one of these things where they wanted to protect it but also make it really visible. Make it so that people, Americans could go and see it. Yellowstone really was thought of more as a tourist attraction than a kind of land preserve. But what we're learning today and we've talked about it in earlier episode about areas that are love to death.

As outdoor recreation becomes more and more popular, we really have to protect more land, not less. I mean, these areas that like Yellowstone are crowded because people love them. I think the number one way to fix overcrowding in our public lands is to protect more land.

Ana: Right. Not give it away.

Mark: I mean, our population is going up and I think we need our protected lands to grow as well, so that there are more places to go, more wilderness.

Coming up, we're taking a look at the meaning of wilderness when RootsRated Labs continues.

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Mark: In this country, there's a legal definition of wilderness. Wilderness protection is actually the highest level of legal protection that can be on any kind of land. An underlying land could be a national park, it could be a state forest, a national forest. It doesn't really matter who owns the land or what type of land it is. But when you put congressional protection in the word wilderness on it, it becomes an area that is deemed so sensitive that there are no motorized vehicles allowed anymore. There's a very specific rules around what you can do in wilderness. And I've actually been on some wilderness trips that were designed specifically to influence policy. We took some people from Senator Lamar Alexander's office and brought them out to some of these wilderness study areas. These are areas that have been managed as wilderness for over 20 years, but they haven't yet been congressionally protected as wilderness. We actually took them, there's one really cool hike where you park on the south of the road, you hike in and actually on the hike you can slowly start to feel the psychological effects, the physiological effects. And you get to a point on the hike where if you stop and listen, you realized you can't hear any motorized traffic anymore. You can't hear the road. You'll never hear guns. I think archery actually is the only hunting that's allowed. You won't hear chainsaws because all the saw work is done with these big crosscut saws where you have people holding either side of the saw and it's a lot of work. But the reason why they go through so much effort here is to give you that experience of silence in real what the land would have been like before we came.

Ana: I'd bet there's incredible flora and fauna there, Mark. These are probably the areas where if we didn't protect them, we'd have danger of extinction and all kinds of things that we don't want which brings us back to what we were talking about earlier, about how important it is to protect public lands.

Mark: These are some of the only areas left where you can go in our country and really not be exposed to modern life in any way. And if you close your eyes, you wouldn't even know that you weren't in the 1800s or even the 1700s. I think it's important to know that the majority of land will never be wilderness in this protected sense. We're talking about a very small fraction of the country, the most sensitive areas and I actually just earlier this week was in Great Sand Dunes National Park in Great Sand Dunes Wilderness which is like I said, it's kind of a different protection but it's on top of the national park.

And I hiked over the dunes and when I got a couple miles in, there was this amazing silence. I mean, just, actually I had this recorder with me and it didn't even record anything and there was literally no sound, that was amazing. That kind of solace, it's so hard to find in modern life.

Luis: And so I think what we're facing right now is sort of this concept of I like to call it wilderness with a big W and wilderness with a little w as a French friend of mine from Sha-Mani likes to say and what he says all the time is, "You know, America has this concept of wilderness with a big W." And so think of those places as the really remote, really hard to get to, no motorized vehicle is allowed. No drone traffic is allowed. It’s usually a national forest which encompasses the gigantic, really remote mountain ranges or deeper forests in different parts of the country. The only way you can get there is through sweat equity. That is wilderness with the big W. Then you have what's going on around some of these communities that sort of market themselves as connected to the outdoor industry and lifestyle and that's wilderness with a little w.

So you have towns like Boulder with this amazing, integrated trail system, a lot of green space, open space, a lot of parks, a lot of ability to fly-fish, kayak, climb, mountain bike. You do all these amazing things close to a heavily populated community and up to this point, I think the economy has been able to support and say, "You know what. This is free. You have access. This is free for you and we're gonna take care of it." But then you look through the lens of the forest service losing up to if not more than 60% of their budget to fight fires. You look at state parks and parks in REC departments, just not being able to fund that the general upkeep and care and maintenance of some of the things that just need to do to sort of counteract the impacts of the increasing populations. My argument there is if we truly are a multi-billion dollar industry, should the industry be responsible for taking care of that? Or should we really look at this through the lens of public service and public awareness and say, "You know what. It's okay to charge a couple of dollars to park in this parking spot if those funds stay to take care of the parking spot and the trail that I'm about to go use. So this concept of paid-to-play has been a very sticky one up to this point because people just haven't really understood I think the need of preservation and conservation through that lens. But now I think with some of the population increases in areas that are moving at these places because they want that quality of life and they want that lifestyle, we're really gonna have to take a closer look at that wilderness with the little w and what access looks like and how we pay for it. And the good news is I think, from a political perspective, I think the time is right for a conversation about those things in certain places. But it’s gonna take a lot of time and a lot of conversation to land on an acceptable answer for everybody.

Ana: Luis asked the question. Who should be caring for these lands? And I think it's important for us to recognize that it's not only up to the government, but we should all come together to take of our recreation areas.

Luis: That's why I think I'd tend to push so hard on us looking at this industry through a collective lands. We have to understand that we are interconnected that it's not just about the one company here, the one company there living in your own silo. You know, another great example is the mountain biking community and the OHV, the dirt biking community, the motorized community tend not to talk and tend not to like each other all that much. But here in Colorado, I put together an advisory council which was one of the first things I did when I started this job representing at a very high level, all the different modalities of the outdoor industry in the state. And I put those two folks in a room together and pretty much locked the door and said, "Listen, you don't have to like each other, but we're gonna have to learn to play together and we're gonna have to learn how we influence each other's policies, ecosystems and the fact that if something happens to one, it happens to all." You know, and I'll give you the best example of I think kind of what's possible there. So in Eagle, Colorado, a very, very big and robust mountain bike trail system, we'd managed to capture the High School Mountain Biking Championships. So there's a lot of high schools that actually have mountain biking teams now.

Same as a football team or a basketball team or any other sports team and we captured the championships for a couple of years there in Eagle and it was fantastic. Brought a lot of revenue to town, people were camping in Town Park, parents, kids, everybody was out riding. It was phenomenal. And this is a town of 6,000 people with one bike shop, but with tons of trails. Not enough hotel beds to cover everybody that would come to town. Well, one year, it got really rainy right before the championships were gonna start and a fence line broke, holding back some cattle up towards the final scores and all the cows came out and trampled the final scores to the point where it was completely unrideable. They decimated pretty much every part of that trail. And so we were sitting in town hall kind of wondering what we're gonna do. Everybody is in town. Everybody is coming to town, we can't cancel the championships, you know, what's in front of us.

And I'll never forget the motorized community showed up, the dirt biking motorcycle group showed up and said, "If you allow us access." Now these are trails where motorized vehicles are not allowed. They are not allowed, they're only mountain biking trails. They showed up and said, "If you'll give us access, we will ride the trails back into competition condition because we can run them down really, really quick. We'll just start doing laps all night long until the dirt hardens up and it will be ready to ride in 48 hours." Now, these are two communities that there are people within these two communities that barely spoke to each other, but when it came to the economic viability and support of a town in a moment of crisis, I guarantee 60% of the people in that motorcycle group had kids that were riding on the local teams. So it was about supporting the economy to make sure it would not fail and to make sure that their kids saw an opportunity to do what they loved. And when you get to that level, you get beyond sort of that wall. I'm only gonna worry about my part of the industry and you worry about your part. We have to look through that collective lens if we're really gonna be successful.

Mark: That's an awesome story. So how did it turn out?

Luis: It turned out great. They rode the trails back into condition. I mean, they were pretty much riding most of the night that night to get it to firm up and to harden up. And we were able to hold finals and now, you know, the conversation, of course, started afterwards, "Well, we accessed it now. We should be able to access it now forever. We helped you know." Sure. But in that true moment of community and that true moment of partnership, they realized that if we don't get this done, the town is going to suffer. Our economy is going to suffer. Our kids are going to suffer and that's the part where we need to stay in this conversation.

Mark: I had such a good time talking to Luis. He's been somebody that I've wanted to talk to for a long time and it's funny after we recorded this, I actually ran into him in person and it's the first time we met face-to-face. We were in a roundtable together after the discussion of outdoor retailer.

Ana: Really? What's he like in person?

Mark: Well, I think he's actually exactly what you'd expect. I guess because well, and I had already seen pictures of him too. So I just knew but he's this really energetic, fit, super, smart guy who is laser focus and he knows what he wants and he just has a way of kind of bringing the room together and saying, "This is what we're passionate about and this is what we're gonna do." So I just had this great interview about him. One thing I think too is that he's also really calculated and thoughtful. I mean that in a good way because he's really trying to bring together people from different sides of the industry. And in this particular roundtable, we had a national park representative, we had somebody from the new non-profit, they come out of First Lady Obama's Let's Move Campaign and we had a Utah house representative and we had Stacy Bare from the Sierra Club, Jessica Wahl from Outdoor Industry Association and he put this whole thing together.

And it was really interesting to see this diverse group of people basically trying to answer the question, how do we all work together and make sure that our agenda is the agenda in Washington. That the outdoor industry and the population health benefits that we have talked about and there are kids that are growing up, all these things come together and we can build a happier, healthier America. We know it's what people want from both sides of the aisle. Anytime you introduce any kind of legislation where you're talking about protecting public lands, there is an overwhelming support for it from both side of the aisle. And I think you saw that when Chaffetz introduced his bill to dispose of all these public lands. You know his own constituents really came back to him and said, "This is not a good idea." And it doesn't matter if in a Red state or Blue state. I'm talking about something that the majority of Americans believe it's something we need to do.

Ana: I think if any good has come of the crazy election that we had last year, Mark is that people are really energized about taking on causes like this that they're really passionate about and they're realizing that if they don't take it up, then no one will. I feel like all of that waive of activism that we're seeing sort of sweep across the country right now will hopefully help the outdoor industry as well.

Mark: Ironically, the introduction of some of these bills they're just obviously stupid ideas has created this kind of collective disgust where… I mean, we all kind of remember from growing up how politics works, right? You're supposed to call your senator and you write notes or whatever. But it seems like they're always just a million other things they do and I think a lot of us weren't as politically active as we probably should have been. And now we fit this point where we see what's happening in Washington and we say, "No. No, that doesn't make sense. This is crazy." And so Congress, in the last few weeks has been completely overwhelmed by phone calls. How many of you have read any about this? But they're getting more calls than they've ever had.

Ana: Not only have I read it, but I've never made as many calls to senators in my life as I have in the past 30 days. And I can tell you that one of the things that is really telling is when we see on the news as you point out that there are millions of people flooding phone lines and emails for some of these senators and you'll still see them choose a different path than the one that seems to be the general public's desire. I feel like that is also spurring activism because people are angry that they're not being heard. They're saying, "If these guys aren't gonna do it, then we're not gonna give up and we're not going to follow their career and we're gonna find people who are right for what we want to get done." That includes the outdoor industry. I mean, why can't somebody like Luis decide to take on a position in the political arena? Obviously, we need voices like his from the outdoors industry shaping public policy. We can't just expect the suits in Washington to figure this out for us.

Mark: Yeah, absolutely. Maybe Luis will run for governor of Utah.

Ana: He's got the personality, the charm and the intellect. If people want something different, I mean, Luis is different. He comes from a world that most politicians don't. So Luis there you go. We said it here first, we want you to run for office and you have two votes already.

Mark: Absolutely and it was really nice to hear too that he's apparently a big fan of what we're doing at RootsRated as well.

Luis: Well, I'm a true believer in what RootsRated is doing and I can't thank you enough for your support and your partnership. It's really awesome to follow what you guys are doing. And I and others in the industry are really grateful that you're willing to give a voice to a lot of these issues. Keep up the good work.

Mark: Thanks so much. So actually that kind of cues up my last promised question which is what's on your agenda? What's next?

Luis: That's great. That's a good one. You know, I think being about a year and a half into this, it’s sort of… It has refined what we're looking at and what we're doing, and obviously in my office I look through four distinct lenses. You know, for economic development, I sort of described already how I believed. We should start to support those economies but I think a lot of the things that we're facing now especially being looked at it as a pretty serious economy, is how do people get access to capital within our industry. Because when you really think about some of the great innovations with bikes, boats, skis, snowboards, guns, hunting bows, you know, soft good apparel, shoes, I'd say 60% of that stuff is the guy or gal on the garage that's coming up with that next great idea. They don't have a company, they don't have an employee. It's just them and one great idea that they're trying to figure out. Those people traditionally don't have really good access to capital, to help sort of speed up that process. It's always kind of been bootstrapping and it's been organic. So one of the things we're exploring here is how do those outdoor industry entrepreneurs get access to capital and can we actually impact that process and that construct to help those people get some of their ideas and products to market. The other things we're looking at is do conservation and stewardship, we also in that sphere of economic development really want to push on some of the land agencies like the forest service and BLM to start looking through the lens of if you allow permitting and you allow access and you understand that if you give a mountain bike guide service user days, or if you give a horse backing outfit user days, or if you give a motorized guide group user days, you are impacting economic development in rural communities.

So really looking at the permitting process, and how can we streamline that and that's a state and a federal level dialog, so that's gonna be a long-term conversation and process. You know, and that kind of leads me to education and workforce training. I often say that if we are a multi-billion dollar industry, you know, has academia kept pace with what we need from that academic level and so I often say where is the MBA for the outdoor industry, where are some of the degree programs that we're starting to see now in Colorado like a Trail Building Degree Program, which we actually have, a Ski and Snowboard Shaping Program, which we actually have. And I'm happy to say that in conversations about an MBA for the outdoor industry, Western State Gunning Gunnison has raised their hand and said, "You know what, it should exist and we're gonna work on trying to make that happen." So I think academia is now starting to keep pace at least here and the word is spreading around how do we serve this economy to make sure that the next generation of leadership is prepared for what comes next. And then ultimately, I think that leads to, you know, how do we capture a lot of those industry innovations and make sure they're robust. So a lot of those things are kind of what's next on my plate.

Mark: We want to hear your thoughts on these issues surrounding public lands and so let your voice be heard. Pull out your smartphone right now, record a voice memo, email it to us at labs@rootsrated.com or just call. You can leave us a message, 423-521-5477.

Ana: The news clips you heard in this episode are from Fox 13 in Salt Lake City, Utah, KSL News and KUTV Salt Lake City. You can find links to those videos along with Outside Magazine's coverage in the show notes page for this episode at labs.rootsrated.com.

Mark: This podcast is brought to you RootsRated Media. We provide content marketing software and services to outdoor brands, demos and really anyone looking to reach active travelers. For more information, visit labs.rootsrated.com.

Ana: Be sure to subscribe to our show on ITunes, Google Play and anywhere a great podcast can be found and if you like what you hear, please do us a favor.

Mark: There's so many things you can do to support this podcast. Share it with a friend, leave us your review, send us some money, that's fine too. If you want to be a sponsor, we need sponsors.

Ana: Invite us to dinner.

Mark: Dinner is great. This episode was produced by BJ Smith. Special thanks to our guest, Luis Benitez. Thanks Ana and thanks to everyone for joining us on RootsRated Labs.

Originally written for RootsRated Media.

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