Vermont has long been home to some of the best-known outdoor recreation companies, including international brands such as Orvis, Burton, and Darn Tough. Now, a new initiative is underway to network, grow and raise awareness of Vermont’s diverse businesses, large and small, that help make the state a leader in outdoor recreation.
That’s the mission of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance (VOBA), a new non-profit group of private-sector businesses. “We’re working to educate Vermonters about outdoor recreation and engage businesses in development initiatives, collaboration opportunities and our state’s vibrant outdoor recreation economy,” says Josh Pombar, chair of VOBA and the marketing director of Turtle Fur. Executive Director Kelly Ault added: “VOBA is dedicated to strengthening, expanding, attracting, and retaining outdoor recreation economy businesses in Vermont.”
As states such as Colorado and Utah have focused on growing their outdoor recreation sectors, Vermont has an opportunity to highlight andsupport the many businesses that are located or do business in the state, as well as to attract new ones. Businesses supporting VOBA range from apparel manufacturers such as Skida and Turtle Fur, to retailers such as Outdoor Gear Exchange and WND&WVS, to recreation facilities such as Bolton Valley and Trapp Family Lodge. Communications and media companies like Pale Morning Media and Vermont Sports Magazine—as well as sales representatives Pinnacle Outdoor Group and Stoner//Andrews—are also industry leaders. VOBA formed following a January 2018 recommendation from Governor Scott’s Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative, or VOREC.
“Together, these businesses are an important sector for our Vermont lifestyle and our economy,” says Pombar. Nationwide, the outdoor recreation industry accounts for 2.2 percent of the nation’s GDP and, according to a report released by OutdoorIndustry.org, “American consumers spend more on outdoor recreation than they do on pharmaceuticals and fuel.”
Since organizing last year, VOBA has hosted a series of roundtable discussions around the state. More than 50 attended the first roundtable in Burlington last November with another almost 50 convening in Killington early March. Additional roundtables are scheduled for June 5 and September 4 in other parts of the state. These networking and information sharing events will culminate in a statewide Industry Summit at the end of the year.
The group hosts a survey on its website to identify the needs of businesses in the sector and has made headway in creating work groups in four key areas: Access to capital, workforce development, infrastructure, and sector branding.
This spring, VOBA is supporting the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development in showcasing Vermont outdoor recreation brands at the largest industry trade show of the year, Outdoor Retailer, in June in Denver.
“We have a chance to help offset the registration costs at the show for five or six businesses that are new to this show via our STEP (State Trade Expansion Program) grants and group them under a Vermont-branded ‘tent’,” says Tim Tierney, director of business recruitment and international trade for the Vermont Department of Economic Development.
Other initiatives underway include sharing images from Vermont outdoor recreation brands with the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. This will help promote Vermont companies as well as Vermont’s landscape and outdoor recreation amenities.
“We’re interested in bringing together more outdoor recreation businesses who’d like to join VOBA and participate in the conversation about how we can grow the outdoor recreation sector in Vermont,” says Mark Yardley, vice president of global sales for Cabot Hosiery, makers of Darn Tough socks.