Thu July 21, 2011
Boulder economy

Outdoor Industry a Driver of Boulder's Economy

The outdoor industry has become a driving force of Boulder’s economy, with a large cluster of companies producing products for sports and active living. KUNC’s Erin O’Toole talks with Boulder County Business Report publisher Chris Wood about recent efforts by other cities to lure away some of Boulder’s outdoor companies.

O’Toole: Chris, Boulder has become kind of a Mecca for outdoor companies. How large is the sector - and what has led to Boulder’s dominance?

Wood:Well, Erin, about 75 members of the Outdoor Industry Association, which is based in Boulder, hail from the Boulder Valley. Most of those are in Boulder itself, with some companies in Lafayette, Louisville, Longmont and Broomfield. But the cluster is actually far larger, with some estimates that as many as 200 active-living businesses are located in the Boulder Valley.

As for Boulder’s dominance, the city is widely recognized as the national leader in the outdoor sector. The reasons are probably a combination of the great natural environment and a love locally for active living. Boulder has been recognized by many national groups for its sports and outdoor amenities — from hiking to climbing to biking — including being named the number one sports town in America by Outside magazine.

You take those assets and combine them with Boulder’s entrepreneurial mindset, and you get a very active and growing industry cluster.

O’Toole: So what are some examples of outdoor companies located in the Boulder Valley?

Wood: One prominent company is GoLite, which produces everything from outdoor-oriented apparel to backpacks. Sea to Summit produces camping and hiking gear. Scarpa North America is also in Boulder. That company produces a wide variety of products for the ski, climbing and trail industries. And the list goes on.

O’Toole: So, efforts are under way now by other communities to lure away some of Boulder’s companies. Who is behind those efforts?

Wood: Two of the cities that have emerged as would-be Boulders are Ogden, Utah, and Portland, Oregon. Both communities also enjoy very attractive natural environments, outdoor cultures and a base of companies catering to that sector. But one thing they’ve done that Boulder and Colorado has not is to develop a comprehensive strategy to build the outdoor industry. Boulder’s dominance has come with little state or local economic-development support. But these other communities are taking a much more aggressive approach, actively meeting with Boulder companies and offering them incentives to relocate.

O’Toole: Are there particular companies they’ve approached?

Wood: Many companies have been approached, but one particular effort by Ogden and Portland illustrates the aggressiveness of their efforts. They’re currently trying to lure away the Outdoor Industry Association itself, which is headquartered in Boulder and which is looking for new space when its lease expires in February. Portland and Ogden attempted to lure the OIA from Boulder three years ago, and the association opted to remain in Boulder. But those efforts have renewed with a vigor.

OIA president Frank Hugelmeyer recently told a Boulder audience that the mantle of the global leader in the outdoor sector is “Boulder’s to lose.”

O’Toole: What does he think should be done about it?

Wood:Well, in a recent guest column in the Boulder County Business Report, Hugelmeyer outlined several steps that Boulder should take to retain its status as the leader in the outdoor sector. He recommended that the local industry itself help to identify its needs and create more cohesiveness and communication locally. That’s beginning to happen with the formation of the Active Living Group by the Boulder Chamber, supported by the city. But Hugelmeyer said there also needs to be greater recognition of the industry locally and at a state level, with an economic-development plan to retain and grow the outdoor cluster.

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