Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 19)
This podcast series features business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. This episode includes a conversation between Tom Adams, director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, Nathan Fey, director of the Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry, and Cassidy Rasnick, deputy secretary of commerce and trade for rural economic development at the Virginia Office of the Governor.
Welcome to the Business Elevated Podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.
Tom Adams (0:20): Good morning everybody, and welcome to the Business Elevated podcast. I’m your host Tom Adams with Utah’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, and we are here on-site at the Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit. The Summit is also merged today with the National Governors Association Outdoor Recreation Learning Network, and I’m here with two wonderful individuals. Nathan Fey from Colorado, our neighboring state, and Cassidy Rasnick from not a neighboring state, Virginia, but we’re really happy to have you both here.
Nathan Fey (0:46): Thanks for having us, Tom.
Cassidy Rasnick (0:47): Yeah, I feel like neighbors. You’re so neighborly.
Tom Adams (0:49): We’re very welcoming here in Utah, it’s a nice place. Well, what I wanted to talk to you both today, you guys both represent what is a very old office, in terms of Office of Outdoor Recreation. So we’re about five years for Colorado and a very new office for Virginia. I kind of wanted to compare the two, and talk about highlights and really anything you guys want to give a shout out to your state, because we’re here to kind of celebrate these offices as much as we are a state. So, Nathan, I’m going to kick it over to you. You’ve done it for how long now? How long have you been in the seat?
Nathan Fey (1:20): So I’ve been director of the Colorado office since May of this year, and deputy director just a few months prior to that.
Tom Adams (1:26): And the office has been around for about five years now, right?
Nathan Fey (1:28): Yeah, we formed the office in 2015 and it’s not new to me in a sense. I’ve been an advisor to my predecessor, Luis Benitez, since the start of this office. I’ve carried through that work as a consultant and an advisor, and now as the most recent director.
Tom Adams (1:42): Well, and with that Nathan, you actually play a much bigger role in this office, than you’d probably just led on right there. We’re here today because we’re going to be signing a kind of historical document of the confluence of causes. It brings all of our offices together. Tell us a little bit about that because you were the bones behind this thing. You helped to create it.
Nathan Fey (2:00): Yeah. Well you know, your office was obviously the first to come online and with a couple of more. It became really clear that we have this great opportunity to bring the offices together and shape a strategy for how we can take collective action on some things that we’re all facing in the outdoor recreation industry, that are not specific to one unique state. And the confluence of chords lays out those four priority areas that we all work within, the things that are kind of top-line items for us. And that gives us a really good foundation for all of the states to collaborate. And yeah, I guess you kind of alluded to a role that I played as a contractor to the state of Colorado. Corralling all of the directors of the original eight states and having some tough conversations so that we can identify those four areas that we all share in common.
Tom Adams (2:51): And I’ll apologize on the speed of my email responses, right now.
Nathan Fey (2:54): Oh now, I’m on the inside, I totally understand. Yeah, and so I guess the complementary piece of the Accords document is a governance system and a charter for the confluence of States. And I think, you know, the Accords to describe what we do together and the charter describes how we do that. As more states come online, I’m really excited to work with States like Virginia, to kind of dive into those documents and bring more into the fold.
Tom Adams (3:20): Okay and are you ready for the test? Ready? What are the four pillars? Can we name them?
Cassidy Rasnick (3:27): Economic development, workforce development and environmental stewardship. And-
Nathan Fey (3:34): That, fourth one always gets everybody.
Tom Adams (3:36): Remember it’s school and?
Cassidy Rasnick (3:37): Education?
Tom Adams (3:38): Education. So those are the four pillars, right? I mean, they’re really important. What I really believe in and I support, the reason we support these is, those were very much already ingrained into our legislation that created our office. But you couldn’t pick four pillars to spread across the country, right? I mean, it’s really important, and I guess speaking of across the country. Cassidy, how are you guys incorporating, and what are you doing as a brand new office? What are you trying to celebrate right now?
Cassidy Rasnick (4:03): Well, we’re just trying to get our act together. I think we’ve been, you know, Virginia is not generally a first-mover state. We don’t take a lot of risks, so we’ve seen, you guys not screw it up so far. So that helped me convince others.
Tom Adams (4:17): Give it some time, we’ll work at that.
Nathan Fey (4:18): Don’t look too close.
Cassidy Rasnick (4:20): That helped me convince some folks back home. But we had a great, kind of homegrown lobbying group from different regions in the state that really focused on outdoor. REI actually came and pitched us, maybe the first two months that the governor was in office and slowly kind of hearing more offices develop, and seeing the studies come around on how each office is doing it has been really helpful. We kicked off three months ago, and have just been doing a lot of travel. We’ve had a ton of enthusiasm, a lot of really excited folks around the state, and trying to help. We were talking about this at the director’s meeting yesterday. What do we do with all those people.?I’ve got, outside of those four pillars, it’d be connecting them with each other, but not necessarily a lot to give them. We’re trying to make sure we’re not everything to everyone and be really specific around those priorities. Figuring all that out and responding to a lot of emails. People are asking me for a job, which is cool.
Tom Adams (5:21): I’m sure they are, but one thing I really appreciated about you, when this started this is, you were the boots on the ground. You went out; you went to Colorado at the outdoor retailer show, you met with everybody. What were the big takeaways after you kind of had those conversations?
Cassidy Rasnick (5:34): I think the thing that made me feel better was talking to you guys and the other directors and saying, everybody does this differently. I haven’t figured out the formula, it’s what’s the formula for your state? Virginia has been, you know, we’re [a] top state for business. That’s been a huge focus for us and so, that’s what really connected with the governor. That rural development piece, too, is something that’s hugely important to him, he’s from a rural part of the state, and this just gives us so many opportunities and some of our regions, like many of you.
Some of our regions have been doing work around outdoor recreation and thinking through how do we prioritize and invest in our assets? How do we promote this for quality of life, talent retention and attraction and economic development. We’re trying to help bring that to the other regions of the state. We’ve got in Virginia, we have the Appalachian mountains in the Atlantic ocean and pretty much everything in between. So, real diversity of regions and experiences, and, we are trying to help collectively those folks build their individual strengths but branded as a state.
Tom Adams (6:38): Well, I don’t envy the fact that you have an ocean, simply for the amount of work that comes into that. I’m very glad to be landlocked, I mean throwing out of their element in there is really tough, so good work on all that research. Speaking of retail shows and businesses moving. Nathan, you guys have had a really successful last few years in terms of the economic development around outdoor recreation. What are you excited about right now?
Nathan Fey (7:00): I get excited when I just look at the numbers to start with. In five years our economy, in the outdoor recreation sector doubled. It’s now a 62 and a half-billion-dollar industry for our state, which is not insignificant. Part of that is bringing the outdoor retailer show to Colorado, working with companies like VF corporation to relocate. Strava, we’ve got the tech sector as well as the manufacturing side. I think one of the really exciting things going forward is that we’re looking at a much smaller geographic footprint, and when we’re talking about the ecosystem within the industry. And so building a network of regional districts or regional coalitions, that we’ve been building since 2015, but there’s much more enthusiasm behind it now. It’s a way for my office and the administration to address; it’s one way of addressing this rural-urban divide that we’re facing in Colorado.
All of that economic growth has been great, but it’s mostly been centered in Denver in the front range. Rural parts of Colorado have largely been left behind, and regional coalitions are now coming up with strategies that entice investment. We’re looking at capitalizing on opportunities zones or enterprise zones. A network of incentives that the state can offer to businesses that are looking to relocate, in the places that they enjoy playing. So we’ve got big campuses that are coming online in Montrose and Grand Junction, other states are looking at those models. I’m sorry, other communities are looking at those models as well. That’s the exciting part.
Tom Adams (8:29):I think that’s a really important part, and I know rural communities are a big focus for us here in Utah. Cassidy, you mentioned it as well is, there’s really no reason for good businesses not to be close to the things that they love. If it’s rock climbing, or if it’s paddling, or whatever it might be, and it’s a rural town. With broadband, it’s so many places, shipping’s really fast. Those historic challenges are not really there. Are you sharing that same message in Virginia as well?
Cassidy Rasnick (8:54): Yeah, I think the rural areas of the state are, we have a ton of opportunity. The folks that live in our major metro areas want to travel and want to have experiences that are authentically Virginian. We’ve got a plethora of those in a short drive. I think one of our strengths as a state, is we have every kind of experience. So if you’re a beginner, you don’t have to be kind of an extreme skier to get out there. You can take your family and have a nice hike and see some birds, or you can go on an ATV trail and get really muddy. Our rural communities have been really excited about this effort, but I think our urban ones too. They’ve got a lot of assets, and they want to be able to communicate the quality of life for the people that live there as well.
Tom Adams (3:39): Yeah, I agree. I think speaking to the urban, I mean Gov. Hickenlooper in the past, and I think that the whole front range has really been committed to that connectivity that Cassidy mentioned. Especially with your bike pass and you guys are doing a great job in Colorado, kind of expanding that stuff.
Nathan Fey (9:54): Well, I appreciate that Tom. I think we still have a lot of work to do. We have communities that are still incredibly underserved, and don’t have access to even just urban parks. So you know, that is a priority of the state and trying to make those connections.
Tom Adams (10:07): Well, I think some of those priorities we’re going to dive into, especially priorities within our office, we’re going to dive into this week with an outdoor recreation learning network. We’re here today in beautiful St. George, Utah. Unfortunately, it is gorgeous outside, and we’re stuck inside, but tomorrow we’re going to go to Springdale. That gateway community design. What are you guys hoping to learn out of this time that we have together, with all these state directors. I believe we have 22 states represented in this meeting, which is by far the biggest meeting we’ve ever had.
Cassidy Rasnick (10:35): Yeah, that’s great.
Tom Adams (10:35): Cassidy, turn it to you.
Cassidy Rasnick (10:36): Well, I have the most to learn. I think that just being new and having the chance to meet y’all at the last NGA event in July, and at ORR. Most of the directors were there in June. I’ve learned so much from all the work. From states that have been around for five years, states that have been around for one year and states that are just thinking about it. Everybody’s got different priorities in their states, but has been so collaborative and helpful in kind of giving us ideas. I think my biggest challenge going home is how do I implement all of the cool ideas I want to steal from everybody.
That’s part of it. Learning from each other and kind of what challenges. In our quick introduction round table yesterday we heard a ton of themes. These themes were about, politically, how do we talk about these offices? How do we change over with an administration and make sure that the new administration feels, you know, connected and communicated with? And talking about best practices, how to reach our rural communities, and make sure that they’re getting built up in a way that’s sustainable and real to who they are. I think we’ve got a lot of similar challenges in our states, and different folks have been able to address those issues in different ways.
Tom Adams (11:52): Cassidy, speaking of transition of governors, Gov. Polis, he took your guys’ logo for the office of outdoor recreation and incorporated it into the state flag. Didn’t he, is that what happened?
Nathan Fey (12:02): Well not into the state flag. No, it’s just the new state logo, so previously the Colorado logo was a green triangle with the mountain on it. Gov. Polis saw the outdoor recreation industry office’s logo at the outdoor retailer show and a year later it’s now become our state logo.
Tom Adams (12:21): Yeah, I kind of loved the flag, and the fact that it’s been manipulated in so many fun ways. It was pretty cool to see outdoor recreation being adopted by the governor, seeing that.
Nathan Fey (12:29): Yeah, and it also speaks to how scrappy we are as an industry. We developed that logo in-house for a few thousand dollars and state logos can be very expensive. I think the previous administration took a lot of flack for spending several million on the development of a state logo. So it’s a good story.
Tom Adams (12:46): Speaking of scrappy, so again, back to the learning network. You’re here, we’re going to go to Springdale, what do you and Samantha hope to get out of this learning network?
Nathan Fey (12:57): Yeah, Samantha is my deputy director, and unfortunately, she’s not here. I think in spirit she’s here, and we’re both looking to reconnect with the bigger community. It’s fantastic that it is growing in the number of states and that we’re having these conversations. Wisconsin, and a number of the new states that are now participating. We have more to learn from, and I’m really excited. We’ve gone through our challenges, and we certainly have some successes and that the exciting thing for me is now sharing those conversations. We’re still facing some of the same challenges as a startup state. I think, together, the more of us having the conversation, and putting our heads together to come up with a solution, the better.
Tom Adams (13:40): Yeah, I think we are very much.Even Utah. We’re celebrating six years, and we still feel like we’re in a startup because we’re doing so many new things, especially when it comes to those pillars. When I think about the collective voice that the learning network has, we are a well-oiled machine. There are so many diverse folks that are here that have so much expertise in different categories. I think together we’re going to go with doing some pretty awesome things. It’s nice to be able to have that rep brain trust. All right, so in closing, I’m going to ask you this one question, who are you going to have to go in?
Nathan Fey (14:09): Well, on the pillar thing. What I’ve heard from a number of new states is how do they work within each of those pillars? What one of the biggest challenges that I’ve had is recognizing that we don’t actually just work in one pillar. We don’t just work in public health and wellness, or in conservation stewardship, or economic development. All of the initiatives that our states are taking on touch on each one of those areas, and as we develop our scopes of work collectively, or as individual states, it’s important to keep an eye on that.
Tom Adams (14:38): Totally. I am glad you mentioned it, and brought that up because I want to give a special shout out to all of us that have advisory board committees. They put in a lot of work to help us fill those gaps in those pillars. So, all right, with that in closing, I’m going to ask both of you one question. We are in beautiful Southern Utah, and you guys both have been to Utah a few times in the last few months. I want to know your favorite place to go to in Utah, or at least your best experience in the last few years..
Cassidy Rasnick (15:03): Well, this is my second trip to Utah. So far, my experience has been the hotel, so it’s pretty easy for me. After the NGA launch in July, we stayed over and went to Vernal, and did some whitewater rafting and it was incredible. I thought we had mountains, but y’all have mountains, we have hills.
Tom Adams (15:22): Vernal will be a destination in the years to come for the next outdoor recreation centers, and we’re excited to go there.
Nathan Fey (15:27): Oh good. Yeah, Utah’s most recent wild and scenic river.
Tom Adams (15:31): Yeah exactly, thank you.
Nathan Fey (15:36): Oh, I have to answer that now.
Tom Adams (15:31): You’ve got to answer it, yep. You’re on the spot neighbor.
Nathan Fey (15:37): That’s a tough question. I spent a lot of time in Utah. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where my favorite place is, and if I could, I probably wouldn’t tell you anyway.
Tom Adams (15:48): I like it. I like the scenery. Well, I want to thank both of you for being here. Thanks for coming to Utah. Thanks for coming to the Utah Outdoor Summit. More importantly, this week being part of the outdoor recreation learning network. So thanks.
Nathan Fey (15:59): Thanks for having us.
Thanks for listening to the Business Elevated podcast, a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Listen to other episodes where you get your podcasts or at business.utah.gov.