The Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC (OGB), a 30-plus brand collective based in Western North Carolina, are part of a brand new $0.9 million funding initiative from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Power Program.
The grant consists of a $940,000 investment from the ARC matched with $787,000 in local funds for a total of $1.7 million-plus and will be used to help expand WNC’s outdoor recreation industry and to support economic development across rural areas.
Dubbed the ‘Growing Outdoors’ project, the news comes hot on the heels of the OGB’s 2018 Outdoor Industry Manufacturing Census that boasted exciting growth in nearly every area of the size and economic impact of the area’s growing industry. According to OGB board chair, Amy Allison of Eagles Nest Outfitters, the $124,250 earmarked for the group will allow them to open even more doors for their members.
“The opportunity for the outdoor community in WNC is immense. The resources from this grant will allow the Outdoor Gear Builders to cultivate new regional partnerships and leverage our collective impact to advance the progress and economic growth of the outdoor industry in our region.”
The focus areas of the grant are to build up the workforce and outdoor career arena, supporting entrepreneurship and innovation through accessible capital, growing connections to the international market, connecting the industry both locally and nationally and engaging with regional economic development. Specifically for the OGB, the new funding will allow them to establish an online job board, hire designated staff members, grow initiatives such as their annual Press Camp and Get In Gear Fest and provide international trade show support. It will also allow for a Growing Outdoors Loan Fund for new businesses and help create 125 jobs through existing and new businesses.
“I think this is an incredible opportunity for the Outdoor Gear Builders to step into their role as the leading outdoor industry network on the East Coast and show just how powerful a driver the outdoors can be for economic and community development in Appalachia as well as other rural places nationwide,” said Noah Wilson, the Growing Outdoors project manager and OGB’s project director.
Lauren Rash, COO ofDiamond Brand Gear, one of the 33 members of the OGB, is enthusiastic for the award because of the training catered to their specific outdoor industry needs.
“We are very excited about the Power grant and the recognition this brings to the Outdoor Industry in the Carolina Mountains and the possibilities of the future,” she said. “Diamond Brand Gear is most excited about the options of workforce training that this can bring to the existing and new workforce needed in our continuance and resurgence of the textile industry. As a small business looking to grow and expand our workforce in textile manufacturing, we want to thank all those involved in making this happen for our region.”
The partnership receiving the award was led by Mountain BizWorks and, other than the OGB, it also includes Western Carolina University, Burke Development Inc., Graham County Economic Development, Mitchell County Economic Development Commission, the Southwestern Commission, Natural Capital Investment Fund and the NC Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. Many additional partners will be engaged throughout the project.