Four spectacular mountain ranges – the western Rockies, Purcells, Selkirks and eastern Monashees – help create the iconic outdoor playground that draws serious adventure sports enthusiasts from around the world to the Kootenay region of British Columbia. The area is a mecca for skiing, snowboarding, cycling, fishing, climbing, hiking and more. All that adventure requires specialized clothing and equipment. As a result, dozens of craft outdoor gear makers have formed a growing industry cluster producing everything from technical clothing, ultralight backpacks and tents to climbing gear and fishing lures. This rapidly evolving cluster was the inspiration for the formation of the industry group, Kootenay Outdoor Recreation Society (KORE), in 2020.
Founded by several outdoor enthusiasts from the Kimberley area, KORE supports its 50 members with education, collaboration and connections while working to incubate more start-ups and attract businesses to the Kootenays. ETSI-BC provided funding to hire two economic recovery advisors in 2021 as part of the Rural Business and Community Recovery Program (RBCR), which it delivers with funding from the Province of BC. An additional ETSI-BC grant of $15,000 was provided to conduct a feasibility study on the potential and benefits of locating a specialized manufacturer in the region.
Supply Chain Challenges Provide Opportunity
Talking to KORE co-founder and Executive Director, Kevin Pennock, it`s obvious the Kootenay craft gear industry is as bold and driven as any extreme mountain skier. The KORE website declares, Kootenay craft gear makers are not afraid. This is a good thing, given the disruption to supply chain activity due to the COVID pandemic which has seriously impacted local outdoor gear manufacturers who rely on supplies from outside the region. Traditional delivery times for supplies of a few weeks have morphed into months and some companies have a wait list of customers they cannot serve.
One of those affected is Durston Gear in Golden, maker of one of the best-selling ultralight backpacking tents in the world. The company is developing a new ultralight tent that uses a high-tech material called Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF). DCF, made in the USA, is half the weight of nylon and polyester commonly used to make tents. Instead of traditional sewing, DCF requires a hot bonding manufacturing process and the primary factory that does this is in China. For Durston Gear, delivery time for the DCF fabric from China has gone from two to 24 months. Most leading tent makers use the Asian factory.
In early 2021, KORE successfully applied to ETSI-BC to fund a feasibility study to determine if such a manufacturing facility could be set up in North America, specifically in the Kootenays. The Society`s business case identified a wide scope of potential economic benefits including investment in technology in the region, increased revenue for local companies, jobs and customers created and retained, contribution to municipal taxes, real estate purchases and leasing, and recognition as an industry cluster of outdoor product manufacturing.
Feasibility Study Leads the Way
Paul Wiest, Business and Economic Development Consultant for ETSI-BC, worked with KORE on the funding process. We could see the (KORE) team knew the craft gear industry inside and out – the potential to grow it and how that could happen. They also realized the value of doing formal research to validate their concept, says Wiest.
Feasibility studies often unearth information and opportunities not even contemplated at the start of the research. Krista Humphrey, co-partner at Wewerke Design which is conducting the study for completion in early 2022. Clearly, there would be significant cost savings in shipping and production costs with access to a local facility that has the specialized technology and capacity our regional outdoor gear producers need. As we look at the technology requirements and equipment involved, such a facility would also meet the needs of many other types of manufacturers, says Humphrey.
With the KORE strength backed by support of ETSI-BC funding to advance key sectors in the region, We believe the Kootenays could be the Silicon Valley for outdoor gear manufacturing of the north, says Pennock. We are leading the way in the evolution of the craft gear industry, he continues. The outdoors is a way of life here and outdoor gear manufacturing industry is a catalyst for significant long-term economic growth in the Kootenays and beyond.
CFNO has created two videos to tell more stories about the RNIP program. Hear about the success of the program by clicking on the links to Interior Homecare Solutions and SilverStar Resort located in the North Okanagan.