A Powerful Call to Action

The Big Gear Show opens with a keynote panel devoted to building the path to an inclusive outdoor industry workforce.

By Ariella Nardizzi

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Left to Right: Big Gear Show Director Kenji Haroutunian, Colorado Department of Outdoor Recreation Director Connor Hall, Senior Director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable Chris Perkins, Path to Peak Founder Kristen Freaney, Greening Youth Foundation Development Director Renee Alston-Maisonet, and Greening Youth Foundation CEO Lesford Duncan. 

The Big Gear Show and (e)revolution, a convergence of outdoor retailers and industry leaders, set the stage with a thought-provoking keynote panel discussion to kick off the event.

Led by Chris Perkins, senior director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR), the panel delved into pressing issues surrounding the future of the outdoor recreation industry, workforce development, and inclusivity efforts—all against the backdrop of a booming outdoor economy. With an astonishing $862 billion in gross output, the outdoor economy has outpaced the overall U.S. economy, growing at a staggering rate of 19%. Perkins emphasized the need for a sustainable outdoor recreation economy that benefits all, starting with a focus on the industry’s workforce.

Putting an overarching focus on inclusion efforts and addressing the narrative of outdoor industry jobs, Kristen Freaney, founder of Path to Peak and industry veteran, shared key insights as to the direction the industry is headed. Freaney stressed the importance of flexibility and work-life balance in the workplace as crucial attraction and retention strategies for employees, as well as identified a lack of affordable housing and qualified applicants as the important issues to resolve.

Lesford Duncan, CEO of the Greening Youth Foundation, accentuated an impending demographic shift, in which people of color are estimated to form the majority of the U.S. population by 2040. Duncan emphasized the significance of engaging this demographic early on to provide job and internship placements, educational and resource opportunities, and creating an environment where inclusivity is valued, heard, and welcomed in the outdoor industry.

“The more diverse voices you have at the table, the better those decisions come, and the better you’re able to withstand the volatility and uncertainty that our industry will inherently continue to face,” Duncan said.


“The more diverse voices you have at the table, the better those decisions come, and the better you’re able to withstand the volatility and uncertainty that our industry will inherently continue to face.” —Lesford Duncan, The Greening Youth Foundation

Renee Alston-Maisonet, development director at Greening Youth Foundation, echoed the sentiment of intentionally bringing new individuals into the outdoor industry workforce. She advocated for recognizing transferable skills and expanding the perception of outdoors careers, such as conservation or environmental professions. She also stressed the importance of welcoming young people who may not be aware of the vast careers available in the industry. 

Kenji Haroutunian, show director for The Big Gear Show, underscored the event’s commitment to inclusivity. “Our show is invested in the entire spectrum of diversification and inclusivity for the industries we serve,” Haroutunian said. “Not just a cover image or panel discussion—but throughout the exhibitor base, the partnerships, education sessions, collaborations  and even off site events are infused with this shared vision for the future.”

The keynote panel served as a powerful call to action, urging the outdoor industry to prioritize equity in workforce development. The takeaway? By fostering a more inclusive environment, breaking down barriers to entry, and amplifying underrepresented voices, the outdoor industry can pave the way for a sustainable future.


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Photos by Billy Michels