County leaders seek public buy-in for outdoor rec industry effort
Farmington mayor emphasizes need to act quickly
- The Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative is part of the county's wider efforts to diversity the economy.
- The ORII began in September, and the city has hosted some small events over the past few months.
- City leaders hope outdoor equipment manufacturers can take over infrastructure left empty from the oil and gas bust.
FARMINGTON — San Juan County leaders asked for the public’s engagement and investment in the city of Farmington’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative at a community meeting on Thursday at the Farmington Civic Center.
Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett told several dozen crowd members that time is of the essence for the campaign, which aims to draw outdoor recreation and tourism businesses to the Four Corners as the region attempts to diversify its economy.
“We have a very small window to act and to do something for our community,” Duckett said. “It will pay dividends to us as we face a very certain economic future.”
Duckett said the initiative began in September, and the campaign has established task forces to focus on business development, infrastructure, partnerships and funding, and branding and marketing. Several events have been organized through the campaign since the fall, including an ORII business base camp in February and a trail users group meeting earlier this month.
Campaign organizers and county leaders say the Four Corners region is primed to tap into the lucrative outdoor industry. James Glover of Once a Day Marketing, the campaign’s marketing consultant, said outdoor recreation and tourism is one of the leading industries nationwide, bringing in $887 billion in consumer spending throughout the nation each year, citing data from the Outdoor Industry Association.
Though Glover said the region has plenty to offer in terms of guiding and independently exploring natural features on public lands, there is an opportunity for the Four Corners to become a manufacturing mecca for outdoor companies that can make their products and be able to test the equipment immediately.
“We are in a position even more than some communities because we have the capacity,” Glover said. “We have a lot of empty buildings left over from the oil and gas industry. Those buildings are perfect for somebody who wants to come in and manufacture a kayak or somebody that wants to manufacture a mountain bike.”
Though T. Greg Merrion of the Merrion Oil and Gas Corp. said that advances in technology — particularly horizontal drilling and multistage fracking — will extend the extractive life of the San Juan Basin, Bureau of Land Management Farmington Field Office manager Rick Fields said, “The glory days (of the oil and gas industry) are behind us.”
Both men said the region needs to diversify its economy to avoid heavy dependence on the volatile oil and gas industry during a panel at Thursday’s meeting.
“Oil and gas is not going away, but the booms and bust cycles of our industry are not going away, either,” Merrion said. “For a long time, we’ve needed to diversify our economy up here.”
Julia Dunlap, who recently retired from San Juan Marine and spent 20 years in the boating industry, attended the meeting and said the potential for the outdoor industry has gone largely untapped.
“It is a playground,” Dunlap said. “It is crazy that no one has run down the river for money. Everybody needs to know what’s out there.”
Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.