The League of Outdoorsy Folks

Published on: July 6th, 2011

They replace your lovingly worn running shoes and supply sleeping bags for the family camping trip. When you decide to give yoga a try, they know the class to recommend. They’ll even repair your mountain bike (or best friend, we don’t judge).

I’m talking about the numerous outdoor sports companies that make Boulder a haven for nature junkies. And ActiveBoulder, an outdoor business cluster, plans to bring them all together.

Sparked by the Boulder Chamber of Commerce in 2008, ActiveBoulder has solidified goals to strengthen the area’s status as an outdoor hub and help companies network in the community. Leslie Bohm, CEO of Catalyst Communication and ActiveBoulder chair, said the young organization has already seen growth.

“The fact is that there’s quite a bit of activity already in ActiveBoulder,” Bohm said. “If we can get people to cooperate and get people in touch with each other, we believe there will be a lot of benefits.”

However, herding a large group of spontaneity-fueled people is no easy task. Chamber of Commerce President Susan Graf laughed when she talked about how outdoor business owners are often off on their own adventures.

“It’s been unusually difficult because it’s a very active group of people,” Graf said. “So they’re always out on their bikes or running or climbing or traveling. They spend a lot of time in Europe and other parts of the country, either competing or working on behalf of their businesses. So it has been particularly difficult getting them in one place at one time.”

Despite this challenge, Boulder companies such as GoLite, the Outdoor Industry Association, Boulder Running Company and Boulder Center for Sports Medicine have stepped up to reap the benefits of the alliance. Boulder Center for Sports Medicine founder Andy Pruitt said he thinks the unification will encourage more athletic people to choose Boulder to live.

“We do a lot of physiological testing, biomechanics, coaching and a full line of services for people who want to get better at what they do,” Pruitt said. “So the more of those people that live in and around the Front Range, specifically Boulder County, the busier we’ll be.”

Local bicycle accessory company, CatEye Service and Research Center, is still considering becoming more involved in ActiveBoulder. Director Thomas Prehn said the most beneficial part of the organization would be the local contacts.

“I think it’s the idea behind networking with other companies and being able to present a more unified voice to the city whenever there are issues that might come up related to our businesses and our interests,” Prehn said. “We’ve worked (with outdoor companies) unofficially, but not like this.”

As it continues to develop, ActiveBoulder may play a larger role in voicing business concerns to the city. The outdoor industry faces a unique set of obstacles, and operating in Boulder can add its own complication. Pruitt said working with like-minded companies might bolster negotiations in the future.

“Boulder has not been all that friendly a place to do business,” Pruitt said. “It’s not the government of Boulder, but it’s the cost living here, cost of retail and commercial space. I think bringing us all together helps us identify what the real problems are.”

Issues also include the costs of housing employees and the difficulties of hosting large events. Susan Graf said in a small city like Boulder space and money often conflict.

“(Companies have) space challenges, finding the right kind of space, whether they are a manufacturing company or need office space,” Graf said. “Just the right configuration at the right price can be a real challenge for Boulder companies and this group in particular.”

For now, ActiveBoulder will focus on getting the large outdoor community together to socialize. The trade group hosted four events last year, including an Industry’s Best Practices event, which featured talks about the state of the outdoor industry. Graf said this fall the group plans to use recent Outdoor Industry Association studies to have an updated state of the industry event.

“Whenever possible we try to get one of the companies to host,” Graf said. “I think its more effective when someone from within the industry extends the invitation. If it’s an official Chamber of Commerce invitation it’s not all that compelling.”

With all of the group’s advances, ActiveBoulder still remains in a very early stage. Bohm stressed that there is still plenty of work to be done before outdoor companies can feel the scope of the project.

“Right now we’re just trying to put a structure in place,” Bohm said. “From the way I envision it, we would become more of a force in the local economy. I don’t think we’ve done enough that I would say we’re making a big contribution. I think we can, but I don’t think we’re at that point yet.”

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