Nothing defines life in Utah better than what can be found outdoors. Natural beauty characterizes the landscape, from snowcapped mountains along the Wasatch Front to red rock vistas in Southern Utah, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Its natural wonders also make Utah a natural fit for companies specializing in outdoor products.Alex Nabaum
Utah offers a natural advantage for BlueHouse Skis, because the perfect laboratory to test new ski equipment is only a short drive from the company’s Salt Lake City headquarters to the nearby Wasatch Mountains. Once on the slopes, new skis can be tested and refined for customers who come from all over the world to enjoy skiing on Utah’s famous powder each winter.
“Our entire product line is designed for Utah’s powder snow conditions,” says Dan Nebeker, BlueHouse Skis CEO. “That gives our products a big draw because Utah is known to have some of the best snow—definitely in the United States and possibly in the world. To have products that are built for the powder makes them attractive to people who don’t have those same kinds of great snow.”
Another local example of a Utah company that has “gone global” is 4FRNT Skis. The firm is a small technical ski brand that describes its skis as “designed to make you feel invincible on the slopes.” 4FRNT skis were worn by David Wise in the ski halfpipe at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. Years of hard work culminated in Wise skiing away with a gold medal and 4FRNT Skis receiving invaluable exposure and credibility around the world.
Outdoor recreation and the associated recreation economy is one of the largest industries driving the Utah economy. It contributes approximately $5.8 billion to the state’s economy annually, directly supports 25,000 jobs and generates $300 million in tax revenue each year. Either economically or as a result of travel or sports, Utah’s recreation economy directly affects every Utahn.
Much of Utah tourism is fueled by visitors coming to enjoy outdoor recreation in destinations ranging from the tranquil Bear Lake in Northern Utah, to the powdery slopes along the Wasatch Front, to the sunny golf courses in Southern Utah. In fact, Utah has more jobs related to outdoor recreation per capita than any other state in the nation. That’s why the state puts a major emphasis on building up and supporting companies that target outdoor enthusiasts.
“Utah, through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, actively engages with private industry across multiple sectors,” says Brad Petersen, director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation. “We’re actively communicating with the industries in each of the different strategic economic clusters, whether it’s in outdoor products or in aviation or in software development or in manufacturing. We’re actively in touch with them and trying to find ways to improve or enhance their business opportunities.”
Charging a cell phone in mountainous backcountry seemed like an impossibility until two Utah start-ups changed the paradigm around access to power in the backcountry. Both Goal Zero and PowerPractical are forerunners in developing proprietary technology aimed at improving the backcountry experience. When there is no outlet to plug in a phone charger for miles, both of these companies have found unique ways to solve the problem.
PowerPractical found a way to alter this reality by inventing a device called the PowerPot, which resembles a typical pot you would find on a kitchen stove. The PowerPot can be filled with water and boiled on a heat source. As strange as it might seem the PowerPot utilizes a thermo-electric generator attached to the bottom of the pot to generate power from the heat. A USB power cord connects to the pot and allows electronic devices to be recharged while the water boils. It is an innovative product to say the least, and one that was made possible by having Utah as a home base for testing and development. To see the PowerPot in action, go to thepowerpot.com.
PowerPractical CEO Matt Ford highlights the fact that Utah possesses all of the right ingredients for bringing his company’s product to life. The abundance of outdoor destinations allowed Ford’s company to research and develop the product in an environment where it would be used the most without spending a fortune to do it. “We would never go anywhere else,” Ford says. “We’re from Utah and, because we love doing what we do, this was a great business to start here. The advantages we have being an outdoor brand—I can’t imagine we would find them anywhere else.”
One difference maker for PowerPractical is the support the company has received at both the state and local level. PowerPractical was able to attend the annual Outdoor Retailers Market at the Salt Palace Convention Center for the first time a year ago. The opportunity to participate came at a time when the company had zero paid employees and was searching for capital to develop its product line.
Being part of the Outdoor Retailers Market was a game changer for PowerPractical. Ford notes the company raised a round of seed funding, which paved the way for hiring full-time employees, creating a marketing plan and cultivating a retail channel. PowerPractical also entered into distribution agreements with major outdoor retailers such as REI, Bass Pros and Cabela’s to roll out its product line nationwide and found distributors in nations like Canada, Norway and South Korea.
All of it came about, Ford says, because Utah makes an effort to give every business a seat at the table—even small companies in seedling stages.
“We feel like we’re recognized by Utah to be on the same playing field,” Ford says. “Utah recognizes the need for new companies to start and grow because that fuels economic development in this cluster or category.”
Major events like the Outdoor Retailers Market (outdoorretailer.com) and the Western Hunting Expo (huntexpo.com) are a perfect avenue for exposing local outdoor companies to the public. Additionally, these events directly benefit Utah’s economy by bringing in millions of dollars from attendees direct spending. The Outdoor Retailers Market alone contributes more than $40 million each year to the Utah economy. Since moving from Reno in 1996, it has expanded from 250,000 square feet of exhibition space to more than one million square feet. More than 200 companies are on a waiting list to come to Utah and participate in the show.
Furthering Utah’s goal to grow business in Utah, studies show that approximately one-third of the people who attend this show and other similar events will return to the state as tourists within a year. According to research conducted for Ski Utah, one visit to an outdoor destination in Utah is not enough—roughly 79 percent of tourists who come to Utah for outdoor recreation will visit the state again multiple times.
These visitors are spending money on recreation equipment like skis, bicycles and fishing poles during their visits. This means big business for companies marketing to that crowd of outdoor enthusiasts.
“That’s big for companies here because it gives us a home-field advantage,” Nebeker says. “Buyers are coming from all around the world to see outdoor products here in Salt Lake City.”
Made in Utah
In the early years of its existence, Jas. D. Easton put down strong roots in California. Doug Easton started the company in Van Nuys in 1922 to build and sell archery products. It expanded in subsequent decades to include other hunting, camping and team sports products.
Eventually, growth spurred Easton to look beyond its California home. Onerous regulations made it tough to do business in that state, threatening to escalate the cost of manufacturing Easton’s product line.
“We were looking for somewhere to move,” says Daren Cottle, vice president and CFO of Jas. D. Easton. “We were looking for a more business-friendly environment and also somewhere that had a good lifestyle and had outdoor recreation.”
Utah was the perfect fit for Easton.
Easton first moved its arrow manufacturing facilities to a plant west of the Salt Lake City International Airport in 1980. The lack of burdensome regulations and favorable tax rates in Utah helped the company’s bottom line. Easton continued to expand over subsequent decades and spun off the team sports into a separate company, Easton Bell, in 2006.
With the move, Easton decided to consolidate its core archery and outdoor recreation operations into Utah. The company moved its corporate headquarters to Salt Lake City. Since that time, it has also brought brands like Hoyt Archery and Beman under the Easton umbrella—and also brought them to Utah.
Since moving to Utah, Easton has grown to 600 employees and five manufacturing facilities, with three located in Utah. Of the 600 employees, roughly 500 are located in Utah. Hoyt Archery is considered the largest archery company in the world. Easton’s archery products have been used in Olympic competition for the past 25 years and won numerous medals. Utah is called the Beehive State because the bee and industry are a symbol and the motto of the state and it perfectly describes the productive workforce enjoyed by the many firms who choose to make Utah their home.
All of this growth and success at Easton has been made possible, says Cottle, by the business-friendly climate in Utah. “We needed somewhere where we could cost-effectively manufacture, and Utah has provided that,” Cottle says. “It’s allowed us to expand to 500 employees in Utah and be competitive in our manufacturing in Utah. That’s probably been the biggest factor for our growth. It’s allowed us to remain a U.S. manufacturer.”
Strength in Numbers
The presence of major companies like Easton, Black Diamond Equipment, Kings Camo, BackCounty.com, Skullcandy, Quality Bicycle Products(QBP), Browning Guns, ENVE composites, Salomon, Suunto and Petzl in Utah has turned the state into a Mecca for outdoor recreation companies. So when big-name companies move their headquarters to the Beehive State, it influences other companies to follow in their footsteps.
Keeping those companies in Utah and helping them to grow is a top priority for the state. One of the ways the state is accomplishing this goal is through a comprehensive post-performance incentive program.
Utah’s incentive program is uniquely designed to attract companies to relocate to the state, and it goes far beyond offering a competitive array of tax incentives and grants. The incentive program connects businesses with partners at local universities to aid in research and development. It also lets companies network with peers in the same industry and partner with their original state and local government to expand operations and increase their footprint in Utah.
“Corporate incentives can include a whole host of solutions,” says Petersen. “It is much greater than simply an economic incentive that will eventually expire. There’s got to be a strategic benefit based on a trained workforce, access to technology and innovation, low costs of energy, and the right leadership, and an improved quality of life to move an operation to a new state. An economic incentive can only be one of those benefits. Utah is the full package.”
ENVE Composites, a manufacturer of carbon fiber bicycle wheels and other bicycle components, attests to the active role local and state government plays in partnering with businesses in the outdoor products industry.
Over the last four years this Ogden-based company has become a worldwide brand that is being ridden by some of the best cyclists in the world. ENVE moved into its current building in 2011; within the past six months, it has expanded to include two additional bays, where it manufactures and tests bicycle equipment. ENVE anticipates outgrowing its current space within the next 12 months.
But one thing is certain: When the company moves to their new location, it will remain in Utah. It enjoys a valuable partnership with the City of Ogden, and the company sees doing business in Utah as positioning its brand within the cycling community at a higher level.
“Utah is favorable from a business standpoint, but it’s also favorable in terms of the outdoor recreational focus,” says Sarah Lehman, Enve CEO. “We’re a bike company. It makes a lot of sense to be here surrounded by our peers.”
The State of Utah is facilitating ENVE’s growth by offering a post-performance tax incentive, tied to creating new jobs, and connecting them with Weber State University’s design innovation team for advanced R&D. The results have been promising as ENVE continues to outperform the market.
When Lehman sees how effectively Utah partners with her business at the state and local level, it is enough to convince her that there is no better place for ENVE to do business. “There’s no bureaucracy,” she says. “There’s no red tape. There’s just a group of individuals who are here trying to improve the workforce and the economic conditions that allow businesses such as ENVE to thrive.”
It is exactly those conditions that make Utah a destination for tourists and businesses alike. There is no such thing as roughing it for outdoor products companies that choose to set up shop in the Beehive State.