Inaugural Summit a Canadian First for Kootenays’ Rec-Tech Sector

In just three years, more than 60 outdoor recreation gear makers and designers have come together through Kootenay Outdoor Recreation Enterprises (KORE) to form a dynamic industry cluster.  This growing sector group mostly consists of small, independent makers eager to share ideas, access new information, network and collaborate. All of this and more took place at Canada’s first rec-tech conference – The KORE Summit  held October 19-22, 2022 in Kimberley.

“KORE is at the center of a new manufacturing economy,” says KORE Executive Director Kevin Pennock.  “As the rec-tech sector has grown, our members told us they wanted more opportunities to connect, learn, network and collaborate. The 2022 Summit did just that while also attracting investment to the area and defining the culture of the Kootenays.”

ETSI-BC, the Economic Trust of Southern Interior, supported the project through its Innovating and Advancing Key Sectors funding stream which encourages business innovation and growth in key sectors such as manufacturing.  ETSI-BC previously supported KORE to engage two Business Advisors to work with rec-tech businesses through its RBCR Program.  KORE also received funding to conduct a feasibility study to establish a specialized manufacturer in the region.

Since hosting the Summit in 2022, KORE has launched a branding campaign called “#Kootenay Approved,” to leverage the allure and magic of the Kootenays and how it relates to outdoor gear quality and authenticity.

Taking Action to Grow the Rec-Tech Sector

More than 100 companies attended the KORE Summit from across Western Canada; 60 percent represented industry, 20 percent post-secondary institutions, and 20 percent economic development. To inspire Kootenay youth to enter this exciting sector, KORE offered a youth scholarship with seven youth attending at a subsidized rate. “Young people going through the school system don’t realize that a career path exists in this field,” points out Pennock.  “It was a great opportunity to learn about the sector and talk with real life designers.”

A value-added aspect of the Summit was the Discover Kootenays Expo where economic development and tourism offices promoted business resources in the Kootenays and the region’s outdoor recreation scene.    

Speakers addressed such topics as outdoor product design, academic technology support, e-rec tech, sustainability, patents, reshoring and brand development, and inspired attendees with their product innovations.  “The Summit exceeded my expectations in every way,” said Christian Rawles, co-owner of Ambler Mountain Works, a Nelson-based manufacturer of outdoor clothing.  “It’s a game changer for small businesses in the Kootenays.”

Hamish Elliott, co-founder of the recently established Sea to Sky Outdoor Adventure Recreation Enterprise Society (SOARE), says conversations at the Summit confirmed the value of the KORE model in the Squamish, Pemberton and Whistler area.  As SOARE gains momentum and awareness of the sector builds, an estimated 200 companies in Sea to Sky’s outdoor recreation industry could benefit from the example of the KORE collaborative model.

Sharing Economic Benefits

The benefits of the KORE Summit were also shared by local community organizations that KORE partnered with to hold the event. Delegates contributed approximately $50,000 directly to the local economy including hotel rooms, contracts for food and beverage services, and conference facilities. KORE hired an event organizer, a professional photographer, videographers, and a local production firm to promote the event through social media. Several businesses attended with new product designs that they estimate will help create 10 new jobs over the next two years.   

The project came in under-budget, mainly due to the support of volunteers and sponsors.  Testimonials and post-event surveys show 83 percent of attendees would participate in the Summit again. 

“KORE Summit attendees realized value through back-to-back presentations and wanted even more networking opportunities at future events,” adds Pennock.  “We listened and learned and are working on what promises to be an even better event in 2023.”

For more information and to registered for the 2023 event, which ETSI-BC is proud to sponsor, see the KORE website here.

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