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Innovate Alabama leverages outdoor recreation to bolster economy

Innovate Alabama has formed a council to take full advantage of the Yellowhammer State’s abundant outdoor recreational opportunities.

The organization’s Council on Outdoor Recreation will advise its board of directors on strategies to accomplish three goals: expand the state’s outdoor recreation industry, attract a skilled workforce, and enhance the quality of life for both urban and rural communities.

Supporting the council will be the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Roundtable, which will consist of 19 stakeholders representing an array of unique perspectives from across the state and outdoor recreation fields.

The roundtable, which held its first meeting Wednesday, will recommend how best to utilize Alabama’s recreational assets as innovative economic development tools.

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship, who serves as chair of the Council on Outdoor Recreation, hailed the organization’s mission to bolster economic growth efforts.

“Made up of some of our state’s strongest outdoor recreation experts, the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Roundtable brings together centuries of combined knowledge in the outdoors to provide strategic recommendations on the application of outdoor recreation to enhance Alabamians’ quality of life and support economic development in rural and urban communities.” said Blankenship in a release.

“We are thrilled to welcome these advisory members who will ensure that all regions of the state and outdoor recreation sectors have a seat at the table as we develop these recommendations.”

In partnership with Birmingham native Dr. Condoleezza Rice and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Innovate Alabama conducted extensive research in 2021 to foster a robust, inclusive economy and drive the state forward.

SEE: Alabama Innovation Commission partnering with Condoleezza-led Hoover Institution

The research culminated in a final report that highlighted the opportunity to leverage Alabama’s natural resources to help innovators establish their companies in Alabama.

Kellie Clark, CEO of AppThink and roundtable member, asserted that part of Alabama’s attractiveness for business was due to the state’s vast recreational opportunities.

“A thriving business ecosystem is holistic. It considers the interest, hobbies and well-being of entrepreneurs and their families. People build businesses in Alabama in part because of our outdoor recreation assets and landscape diversity,” said Clark. “Our natural resources – a true advantage that helps us continue to recruit and retain top talent – differentiates us from other innovation-forward states.

“As an outdoor enthusiast and innovation advocate, I am proud to serve alongside fellow subject matter experts who are all focused on creating inclusive, thoughtful solutions through the lens of outdoor recreation that will enrich our innovation ecosystem.”

Innovate Alabama will look to leverage local and state parks, landscape diversity and other natural resources in an effort to highlight Alabama’s vast and unique offerings. Through this, the organization will look to encourage instate and out-of-state investors to grow roots in Alabama.

John Kvach, executive director of Singing River Trail and roundtable member, said the state was experiencing “great success by aligning innovation with our outdoor recreation efforts.”

“Thanks to Alabama’s unique outdoor landscape and outdoor recreation assets, we have the potential to strengthen regional bonds between rural and urban communities to create a thriving statewide innovation ecosystem,” said Kvach.

Members of the Council on Outdoor Recreation and the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Roundtable include:

Council on Outdoor Recreation

  • Commissioner Chris Blankenship, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (Council Chair)
  • Bill Poole, Chair, Innovate Alabama Board of Directors
  • Peter Inge, Private Sector Representative, CFO, NXTsoft
  • Darrell Ezell, Private Sector Representative, Director of Diversity Equity & Inclusion, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology

Outdoor Recreation Advisory Roundtable

  • Amy Rauworth, Chief of Development and Strategic Partnerships, Lakeshore Foundation
  • State Sen. Andrew Jones (R-Centre), Alabama Senate, District 10
  • Chris Oberholster, Development Director, Alabama Audubon
  • Emile Hughes, Co-Founder, Ride Resorts
  • Fred Couch, Jr., Founder, Alabama Scenic River Trails
  • Graham Sisson, Chairman, Alabama Trails Commission
  • Mayor Jack Tibbs, City of Eufaula
  • John Kvach, Executive Director, Singing River Trail
  • Kellie Clark, CEO, AppThink
  • Kruis Retherford, President, Glasstream Powerboats
  • State Rep. Kyle South (R-Fayette), Alabama House of Representatives, District 16
  • Michael Norman, Store Manager, REI
  • Phillip West, Coastal Resources Manager, City of Orange Beach
  • Preston Cauthen, Community Relations Manager, Alabama Power
  • Rick Oates, State Forester, Alabama Forestry Commission
  • Rusha Smith, Executive Director, Freshwater Land Trust
  • Themika Sims, Director, Graham Farm
  • Tim Lindblom, Dean, Jacksonville State University College of Mathematics and Science
  • Tim Wood, General Manager, Central Alabama Farmers Cooperative

Dylan Smith is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL

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