Welcome home: Colorado debuts outdoor industry neighborhoods

Outdoor professionals can live, work, and play in the same location—and be an economic force worth $300 million.
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Imagine this: The Uncompahgre River flows beneath the balcony of your new home. After breakfast, you walk five minutes to the office. Your lunch break includes fly fishing on the Uncompahgre’s Gold Medal waters. Post work, you drive fifteen minutes—with zero traffic—to uncrowded mountain bike trails.

This work-life balance sounds utopian for outdoor industry professionals—and in southern Colorado, it’s reality.

A local fishing guide and partner of Ross Reels takes a hill slide in the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, near Montrose.

Outdoor utopia: Colorado Outdoors

Introducing Colorado Outdoors, an outdoor-industry riverside neighborhood that is under construction in Montrose, Colorado, located 394 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah; 296 miles from Denver, Colorado; and 321 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The 670,000-square-foot revitalization project includes a manufacturing center, retail shops, commercial offices, townhomes, apartments, a hotel for business travelers, a lake, and a riverfront trail along the Uncompahgre. Inaugural residents will open their offices—and throw housewarming parties—in December 2018.

“The vision is to offer a desirable one-stop shop for like-minded businesses in the outdoor industry,” said David Dragoo, president of Mayfly Outdoors and director of Colorado Outdoors. Mayfly Outdoors—which manufactures fly fishing equipment for two subsidiary brands, Abel Reels and Ross Reels—is the anchor tenant and spearhead of development.

David Dragoo, president of Mayfly Outdoors and director of Colorado Outdoors.

David Dragoo, president of Mayfly Outdoors and director of Colorado Outdoors.

“We want to attract manufacturing companies that make outdoor products—for fisherman, backpackers, mountain bikers, etc.—and bring jobs to a rural community. Companies can utilize the airport and the economic development benefits from the state and city. We have a river preservation project. That’s all a powerful combination,” said Dragoo.

Considering the ingredients of the $83.3 million outdoor industry campus, Colorado Outdoors is the only project of its kind in the country.

Over the next decade, the economic outlook of Colorado Outdoors is lucrative. The project is estimated to create 1,900 jobs and an annual payroll of $81 million, plus a total economic output (including the product sales of the companies) of $297 million, according to a third-party study completed by Anderson Analytics.

At Colorado Outdoors, affordability is paramount

“Our country is supporting manufacturers that make their products in the U.S. versus China,” said Dragoo. “Colorado Outdoors has space to support 30 new manufacturers. Many brands have reached out to inquire, and we should be able to announce at least six in the next year."

Mayfly will combine their manufacturing facilities—one is in California and the other is in Montrose—to create one 40,000-square-foot site, which features an additional 12,000 square feet.

Compared to Denver, the median home price in Montrose is 30 percent lower. Affordability of property enables startups to launch and allows small- to medium-sized businesses to expand.

It's widely known that the Front Range attracts outdoor companies: VF Corp just announced that it's moving its global headquarters and 800 employees to Denver, on the flanks of the Rocky Mountains.

“Mayfly is not just creating dirt. They are addressing affordable housing and there’s a stream to be active on. They are creating a closed-loop ecosystem,” said Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. “This is a space for talent migration, innovation, and quality of life that up-and-coming companies can afford, and there’s a larger opportunity for an exchange of ideas between outdoor industry companies,” said Benitez.

Colorado Outdoors is not the only blossoming outdoor industry hub in Colorado.

Bobby Noyes in mountain biking gear

Bobby Noyes, founder of RockyMounts, overlooks the Riverside project in Grand Junction.

Riverfront at Las Colonias Park: space for business growth—and play time

To the point of Benitez, that’s why Bobby Noyes, founder of RockyMounts—a Colorado-based manufacturing company that specializes in car racks—will relocate from Boulder to Grand Junction (60 miles northwest of Montrose) in fall 2019. The glue is the Riverfront at Las Colonias Park, another outdoor industry hub that is in development, which sits adjacent to the Colorado River.

“My opportunities [in Boulder] are tough. One of the problems with being based in Boulder is that the housing is out of hand, because more people have moved here—Google built a campus that accommodates 1,500 people, for instance. A lot of my staff is forced to live outside of town and drives in,” said Noyes.

In Boulder, commercial property space is difficult to acquire due to demand and cost. “It’s a dream to put up a showroom in a public business park and to invite the community to see our space,” said Noyes and explained: “Another big problem in Boulder is that we can’t afford that business expansion. In Grand Junction, I can build a bigger building and maximize real estate costs, which cost less than in Boulder, where we are hamstrung with real estate costs…and, when I was looking for commercial properties, I was told to get in line.”

In Grand Junction, the proximity to mountain bike trails and the Colorado River is also unbeatable for Noyes’ employees.

“Boulder is the city—you can’t ride a mountain bike from town. There’s nowhere to go. In Grand Junction, the Lunch Loop Trails are right there (editor’s note: about three miles from Main Street in downtown Grand Junction), as well as the Colorado National Monument. The opportunities from the river to the mountains are fantastic,” said Noyes.

Comparable in size to Colorado Outdoors, the 15-acre business park will feature commercial properties, retail spaces—which could include restaurants and a coffee shop—lakes, an amphitheater with 10,000 seats, a whitewater park, and a zipline built by Bonsai Design, the anchor tenant. Bonsai manufactures zipline components and designs and installs adventure courses.

“Grand Junction offers a really unique situation. It’s a super affordable, great place to grow small- to medium-sized businesses,” said Bonsai Co-Founder Sarah Shrader. “Incredible plastic workers, welders, and fabricators and are here, because of the energy industry, which helps manufacturers like [Bonsai] grow, thrive, and collaborate in our own community,” she explained.

Plus, 72-percent of Mesa County is public land. “The ability to get into wild spaces, test products, create promotional videos, and have sales events is incredible for outdoor recreation manufacturers,” said Shrader.

An aerial view of Grand Junction's River District Masterplan

An aerial view of Grand Junction's River District masterplan

Outdoor industry clusters: Rare and on the rise

Variations of outdoor industry clusters, hubs, and campuses are rare throughout the country, though they are not an entirely new concept.

“Credit must be given where it’s due. In Ogden, Utah, Mayor Mike Caldwell realized the quality of life around his town and very strategically, intentionally created an ecosystem for the outdoor industry,” said Benitez.

Prosper Portland is another visionary project. In 2010, the economic development agency launched a strategic industry plan in Oregon, which included an “Athletic and Outdoor” cluster. In Bend, Oregon, Ruffwear is remodeling its 20,000-square-foot former warehouse into an office for the brand and a co-working space, which will open in 2018.

More outdoor business spaces are pending approval and funding in Colorado, including an outdoor adventure center in Meeker, which is 155 miles north of Montrose and 224 miles northwest of Denver. Rio Blanco County published a 2016 feasibility study for the 68,000-square-foot center, which would feature indoor archery, simulation technology, sport instruction, retailers, and rental equipment.

Yeti Cycles recently purchased 40 acres in Golden, Colorado, near two popular trailheads and submitted a project proposal for a business hub. After the plan is green lit, Yeti’s new headquarters and factory will go up, plus storefronts for local businesses. There are no outdoor industry requisites.

Colorado Outdoors may be the first-ever iteration of a live-work-play outdoor industry campus, but we’re guessing it won’t be the last.

“If any economy is willing to take bolder steps into rural communities, it’s going to be the outdoor industry,” Benitez said. “Now, especially with the gig economy [editor’s note: a labor market characterized by short-term contracts] and broadband capabilities, you can have your cake and eat it too.”

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