Earlier this month, Katherine Andrews found herself at a serendipitous junction where work and leisure merged.
Andrews, an avid outdoor enthusiast, landed a gig to promote hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, boating and more around the state as well as help grow and develop the commercial ventures devoted to such recreational pastimes.
“I’m excited to bring all those groups together to find out what’s working well and where we can help,” said Andrews, chosen to lead the newly created Arkansas Office of Outdoor Recreation.
According to the state’s calculations, outdoor recreation contributes nearly $10 billion a year to Arkansas’ economy, supports 96,000 jobs worth $2.5 billion and generates $698 million in local and state tax revenue.
Among her tasks is to enhance the connectivity between state government resources and this diverse business sector.
“We want to establish a baseline of what we have in Arkansas and identify gaps and opportunities,” Andrews said. “We’re going to try and take a deeper dive with specific activities such as trail running and mountain biking.
“The economic piece is recruiting outdoor companies and fostering the companies we already have. I’m hoping to do a lot of success stories and highlight the companies that have done a great job.”
In the big picture of industrial recruiting, the new office aims to boost the state’s ability to showcase the quality of life amenities that Arkansas has to offer.
The move to create an office of outdoor recreation is part of a national trend. Arkansas is among a third of all states to devote bureaucratic focus on the business of outdoor recreation, joining North Carolina as the only other Southern state in the mix.
“I want to call on states that are already promoting this,” Andrews said. “We want to learn what best practices to emulate.”
Set to move into her new job on Nov. 29, she looks forward to the first meeting with her office’s 10-member advisory board. Its composition represents a varied sampling of the state’s outdoor recreation community.
Andrews is interested in building an outdoor recreation database that will also serve as a foundation for developing an interactive online map and organizing an annual outdoor summit for businesses and vendors with topical speakers and workshops.
She looks forward to developing initiatives to market women’s hiking or biking groups, for example, and to attract more children and minorities to Arkansas’ outdoor activities.
A Little Rock native, Andrews was among a dozen finalists interviewed from 80 or so applicants for the new job.
“I’m not privy to all the details, but the search was done in state and out to find someone with economic development experience with a bit of background recruiting companies,” she said.
Her selection to fill the new post comes a mere six months after she was named to lead a new division at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Andrews became director of small business and entrepreneurship development at the AEDC on June 1.
In leading that new division, she was responsible for guiding the agency’s efforts to assist, champion and promote small businesses and entrepreneurs. Andrews joined the AEDC in 2016 as a project manager for the agency’s business development division, a position she held until her promotion this year.
A catalyst for the creation of her new job is COVID-19, which induced a heightened appreciation of the great outdoors amid in-home quarantine and the closing of parks, campgrounds and more.
“One of the biggest drivers for it was the large number of people getting outside during the pandemic,” Andrews said.
Outdoor awareness hasn’t abated either, and Arkansas wants to tap into that.