Anyone who has visited the South Island New Zealand town of Queenstown knows that building a local economy around outdoor adventure activities can work — and work well — for a small mountain town, boosting the local economy and attracting large numbers of youthful creative types, some of whom decide to stay.
Many alpine communities in BC understand this. Towns like Rossland, Nelson, Fernie, and Revelstoke come to mind, with their focus on and support of skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and hiking, taking full advantage of their mountainous surroundings.
The East Kootenay town of Kimberley can be added to this list. Like the above communities, Kimberley checkmarks many of the essential elements of small town must-haves for attracting millennials (for more on this, see the BC Rural Centre’s Youth Attraction: Rural Challenges, Successes). And, like the others, it has focused on its outstanding outdoor culture as its most unique asset.
Where Kimberley is poised to stand out centres on its recent decision to focus on building a place-appropriate entrepreneurial culture — witness the recent formation of the Kimberley Outdoor Alliance.
Headed up by outdoor blogger Matt Mosteller and like-minded outdoor industry advocates in Kimberley, including Kieran Hickey, P.J. Hunter, Kevin Pennock, and Pat Bates, Kimberley Mayor Don McCormick also sits on the board as a founding member.
Essentially, the Alliance is based on the observation that the town’s alpine location plus the existence of millennial-friendly attributes such as plenty of cultural activities, high-speed internet, a walkable downtown, good schools, and a lively restaurant and bar scene, perfectly positions it to lure entrepreneurs and businesses focused on the very pursuits that attract so many of the town’s young visitors. To put it succinctly, any small mountain town with an adjacent ski hill can attract skiers — but what about the companies that make the skis, boots, poles, and clothing they use?
“I believe that Kimberley is the ideal location for companies in the outdoor industry to be located,” Hickey said. “Our excellent amenities, access to an international airport and limitless outdoor opportunities provide a quality of life and lifestyle that would attract and keep valuable outdoor oriented employees”.
South of the border, at least two mountain towns — Ogden, Utah, and Bend, Oregon, have shown this approach, leveraging spectacular mountain settings to go beyond tourism, attracting outdoor entrepreneurs and businesses, can succeed. The entire Amer Group, Scott USA, QBP, and Osprey Packs are some of over a dozen outdoor brands that have established significant business hubs in the Ogden area. Bend Outdoor Worx, the first and only outdoor industry incubator and accelerator in the United States, has helped this Central Oregon town become home to over 100+ outdoor industry companies, and also hosts an annual angel investor conference, Bend Breakout.
While just getting underway, the initial goal of the Alliance is to reach out to potential economic development stakeholders and secure funding resources to launch its first phase, including the following objectives:
- Develop start-up priorities and immediate goals and objectives.
- Create a directory of the existing outdoor industry community already living and operating in Kimberley, and initiate collaboration within this community to kick-start the Alliance.
- Initiate stakeholder presentations and meetings to secure start-up funding and resources.
The ultimate goal is to attract bright young entrepreneurs and cutting edge small and medium-sized businesses, generate sustainable jobs, a stewardship mindset, and predictable tax revenues for the town. Brands, retailers, and outfitters will benefit by taking advantage of programs and close-to-home access support for employees and those in nearby communities.
Planned initiatives include:
- Kimberley Outdoor Alliance Base Camp — a collaborative workspace and outdoor industry hub.
- Kimberley Outdoor Alliance Propulsion Lab — an incubator and accelerator program to mentor new outdoor industry start-ups.
- Kimberley Outdoor Alliance Gear-Park — a gear builders’ centre developed in the Kimberley Light Industrial Park
- Trade Missions — the creation of outdoor industry trade events such as Outdoor Retailer, Snow Industries Association, Interbike, and Mountain Ventures Summit.
- Industry symposia and outdoor industry press camps.
The point here is that just as many young people are looking for more than simply a job, many entrepreneurs and businesses are also looking for locations that both reflect their products, and the lifestyle those products support.
Here’s a interview with Matt Mosteller, chair of the Kimberley Outdoor Alliance.