Outdoor industry executive Luis Benitez is leaving Denver-based VF Corp. after four years as vice president of global impact and government affairs.
His next priority is to unite all 22 state recreation offices under one federal umbrella.
Benitez wants to help push the federal government to create an outdoor recreation office as a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce that’s “less about management of the state offices and more about support of the state offices.”
“The ultimate goal is to make sure that the singular voice for the industry and the economy is a little bit clearer,” he said in an interview with The Daily.
“We’re one of the only multibillion-dollar economies in the United States that does not have a consolidated political voice.”
Federal Outdoor Recreation Office
He’s drawing on the pillars he helped develop with the Confluence Accords, where Benitez brought together the first states with outdoor recreation offices to promote protecting public lands, among other initiatives.
Under Benitez’s plan, the new federal office would cooperate with other federal departments, including the Forest Service, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Interior Department’s new Office of Strategic Partnerships, in the areas of conservation, economic development, workforce education, and public health.
Benitez would like to have the office created before the next presidential cycle begins.
“We really need to make a concentrated effort to get this done,” he said. “When the election season kicks off, a lot of the energy and attention will be more focused on candidates rather than growing different pieces of government.”
He’s also helping with The University of Colorado Boulder’s Master of Environment graduate program, where he’ll be teaching a class this fall focused on the intersection of policy, philanthropy, and impact in the outdoor recreation industry.
“One of the things I recognized in stepping away from VF was that we really need to understand what the next generation of leadership is going to need for our industry and our economy,” Benitez said.
“CU Boulder offered me a space to come in and try to influence and build some new curriculum in that space.”
Benitez also has some outdoor bona fides of his own. As a professional mountaineering guide, he’s summited the world’s highest mountains dozens of times, including Mt. Everest six times.
VF Corp. Exit
While at VF, Benitez was also the head of the VF Foundation, which supports non-profits doing environmental and humanitarian work.
Benitez praised VF for its efforts to champion sustainability on a global scale.
“VF has a deeply global reach and I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve been able to do the last four years,” he said.
Prior to working at VF, Benitez was appointed by former Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2016 as Colorado’s first director of the state’s outdoor recreation office, which was the second one established in the country at the time, after Utah’s.
During that time period, Colorado’s outdoor economy grew from $28 billion in 2015 to $62 billion in 2019.
As head of that office, Benitez helped attract VF to Denver from North Carolina in 2018.
He also helped bring the Outdoor Retailer trade show to the city at the time. The show has since relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.