KORE – Kootenay’s Entrepreneurs
Imagine if we could make more gear here; outdoor gear that is. That’s the premise of KORE (Kootenay Outdoor Recreation Enterprise Initiative) Launched in early 2021, this Kimberley-based non-profit is aimed at supporting the growth of the Kootenays – and BC – as a hub of outdoor gear design and boutique manufacturing.
“We knew there were people out there doing interesting things, but we were blown away by how many,” says Kevin Pennock, the KORE’s project manager.
After shaking the trees, Pennock discovered more than 30 ski shapers, design engineers, apparel specialist and other entrepreneurs in the outdoor gear sector, many of whom were unaware of each other’s existence. People like Nelson’s Cam Shute, an engineer and former head of design at G3, Nelson clothing designer Carolyn Campos, Northern Teardrop Trailers, a company of two that manufactures roughly 30 ultralight camping trailers each year out of a shop in Salmo, and PJ Hunton, senior design engineer for Norco Bicycles who works remotely from Kimberley, to name just a few..
KORE is the fruit of several years of back-of-the-napkin brainstorming between Pennock and the American-born Matt Mosteller, Senior VP of marketing, sales and resort experience for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies.
“We wanted to change the narrative of small Kootenay communities as raw resource dependent towns and show that they are places where innovation and entrepreneurship in the outdoor sector is happening,” Pennock says.
KORE is inspired by similar efforts elsewhere, like the Outdoor Gear Builders of Western North Carolina (OGB) based in Asheville, NC. The community was once anchored in the textile and forest industries, and later in bedrock firms like DuPont that built and then sold a massive plant in nearby Henderson County that employed more than 1500 at the time of its closure in 2002. OGB was established in 2013 with nine core members, and has since grown to include more than 80 companies and organizations. In that time established brands like Fox Suspension, Rockgeist and Kitsbow have relocated or opened branch operations in the area, while new brands like Black Mountain Adventure Apparel and Blyss Running have been born. According to Noah Wilson, OGB’s director of sector development, member businesses collectively employ nearly 1100 people, spend (USD) $8.3 million annually in locally sourced materials, and are major contributors to North Carolina’s (USD) $28 billion outdoor recreation industry.
“A major motivator was bringing the outdoor media to our community, which was emerging as the east coast’s biggest hub of outdoor gear manufacturing, as well as creating a supportive community of companies that would work together to help one another grow and prosper,”, Wilson says, adding that support from the regional economic development organization was also key.
Pennock believes the Kootenays has similar ingredients for this secret sauce.
One of KORE’s biggest cheerleaders is Kimberley Mayor Dan McCormick, who was also part of early discussions with Pennock and Mosteller, and now sits on KORE’s board of directors. The East Kootenay community is historically rooted in forestry and mining. In 2001, Teck Resources Limited closed the Sullivan Mine, an underground lead, zinc and silver operation that operated on and off for nearly a century. Since then, Kimberley has shifted toward tourism as an economic mainstay, but COVID-19 has revealed the vulnerability of this sector.
“We need to look beyond tourism to create some economic diversity and resiliency,” McCormick says. “I see outdoor manufacturing as a natural for creating lasting jobs and prosperity.”
KORE decided to examine the procurement and supply chain realities around Dyneema, the ultralight, ultra-strong, fabric used to make packs and tents to see what opportunities may exist for reshoring manufacturing. A report commissioned by KORE showed how this fabric travels back and forth across the ocean, racking up thousands of kilometres and a considerable carbon footprint before it ends up in the hands of North American consumers in the form of outdoor gear. That’s why KORE is floating the idea of a Kootenay-based Dyneema product manufacturing facility that would tick a lot of boxes, a lower carbon footprint and better-quality control to name a few.
Ex-Canadian World Cup Mountain Bike downhiller Dustin Adams proved it when he launched, We Are One Composites, with the goal of designing and building carbon fiber wheels and bike frames from scratch in Kamloops. Most people told him he was nuts to try. They were wrong. His business is thriving, his staff is growing and Adams has several new bike frames in the works after the successful launch of his flagship model, Arrival, two years ago.
It’s the kind of success story that KORE wants to see repeated in small town BC. KORE is hosting the Outdoor Rec-Tech Summit, Oct 19-21, 2022, that will bring together BC-bred outdoor entrepreneurs to share stories around innovation, product design marketing, supply chain challenges and the case for making more gear here.
Interested in reasons why it is important to shop local, visit a previous blog post, Importance of Shopping Local.