Utah Hits The Market For Outdoor Companies - Global Trade Magazine
  April 20th, 2015 | Written by

Utah Hits The Market For Outdoor Companies

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In 1989, Peter Metcalf bought the assets of a defunct outdoor equipment manufacturer and started Black Diamond Equipment. Then he systematically researched western communities to find a new home for his company until, 25 years ago, Metcalf moved the company from Ventura, Calif., to Salt Lake City, Utah.

“We needed the accoutrements of a city but access to the mountain environment,” says the president and CEO of the outdoor equipment and apparel maker, “and this place was unique.”

Utah has become a Mecca for aficionados of outdoor sports: skiers, mountaineers, hikers and bikers all make their way to Utah’s unique vistas. So are growing numbers of manufacturers of outdoor equipment. Part of the attraction has to do with the availability of outdoor recreation, but that’s just the beginning.

“Outdoor companies come here because of the unique blend of natural assets, a business-friendly environment, cultural opportunities and the availability of transportation and other infrastructure,” says Metcalf.

“Our main asset is our people,” adds Randy Walk, president of Hoyt Archery. “People love to work and play in the same sport. We are able to pull talented people to Utah because of everything Utah has to offer.” Hoyt Archery enjoys a 70-percent market share among Olympic archery athletes and exports to 33 countries.

The Utah state government runs a special office to attract and retain outdoor companies. “Utah is an ideal environment for testing new products,” says Brad Petersen, director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation. “Our location also offers supply-chain efficiencies, with rail and truck access to Southern California ports and a local free-trade zone.”

“Logistics is damn easy,” affirms Metcalf. “I was shocked how small the cost differential was from Ventura to the port of Long Beach versus Salt Lake City to Long Beach.” Sixty percent of Black Diamond’s sales come from outside the United States.

State incentives for companies relocating to Utah come in the form of tax credits of up to 30 percent over 20 years. “The threshold is to create a minimum of 50 high-paying jobs,” says Val Hale, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Black Diamond, although headquartered in Utah for decades, is currently reshoring the bulk of its manufacturing activity from Asia to Salt Lake City. “You have a fairly sophisticated subcontract manufacturing base and an educated workforce here,” says Metcalf.

“The University of Utah has an excellent engineering school and Brigham Young University has a great design program. There is a sophisticated banking community that serves smaller companies playing globally.”

Utah also enjoys a surprisingly international culture for an unusual reason: Those who practice the dominant religion, Mormonism, send their youth on missions abroad for two years where they become fluent in foreign languages. “Our people speak 130 different languages,” says Hale. “I was surprised to learn on a recent trade mission that we have 12,000 native Brazilians living in Utah and 19,000 people who speak Portuguese fluently.”

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