Outdoor Gear Strategy
Thanks to a $940,000 grant from the Appalacian Regional Council’s POWER fund, an effort is underway to make North Carolina’s 24 western counties the next outdoor gear industry hub. Together with $787,000 in local matching funds, the award is aimed at developing new degree programs related to outdoor activities, a marketing campaign, a revolving loan fund and educational resources for entrepreneurs.
A recent report released by the Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Economy Report shows that outdoor recreation in the U.S. generates $887 billion in consumer spending each year, supporting 7.6 million American jobs, which translates into $19 billion and 192,000 jobs in North Carolina alone. Western North Carolina is an ideal location for the outdoor gear industry to develop – there is everything from hiking and biking to camping, canoeing, rafting and rock climbing.
The funding is also aimed at considering the challenges the area faces in terms of having sufficient lodging inventory, the lack of broadband access and difficulties with GPS navigation. There is also a lack of skills locally to support the sewing of tents, backpacks, and other canvass-related products, which they hope to solve through the development of more relevant workforce training programs offered at regional community colleges.
Beyond the manufacture of outdoor gear, the research will also consider other opportunities, such as training future guides, team builders, and event organizers to make sure that they have the right skills to offer visitors packages that will encourage them to use the gear in the local great outdoors.
A key focus area for Mountain BizWorks will be on workforce development through improved educational opportunities. Working closely with WCU, they plan to launch multiple new degree programs specifically tailored toward the industry.
In addition, the project will include a revolving loan fund to improve entrepreneurs’ access to start-up capital. The fund currently is capitalized with $800,000, $200,000 of which comes from the grant and $600,000 of which is put up by Mountain Bizworks and the Natural Capital Investment Fund.
Lastly, Mountain BizWorks plans to launch a regional branding and marketing campaign to widen the the understanding of wilderness and outdoor adventure opportunities to include western North Carolina stories.