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What's Holding Outdoor Industry Businesses Back? It Might Be Their Location.

Long an outdoors mecca, Bend, Ore., has fostered a unique entrepreneurial environment that is tailor made for the outdoor industry.
What's Holding Outdoor Industry Businesses Back? It Might Be Their Location.
Image credit: Courtesy of EDCO
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Few things are more gratifying than turning a personal passion into a professional and commercial success. Who understands this better than the owners and executives of a company in the outdoor industry?

In major cities, the only things standing between you and those snow-capped peaks and pristine rivers is an abundance of urban sprawl, hours spent commuting, stifling business costs and a lack of time to enjoy the very things that got you into this business in the first place. In other words, big cities often don’t have the needed balance between work and recreation for many outdoor businesses to thrive.

Many know that Bend, Ore.—a sun-drenched haven in central Oregon at the foot of the Cascade Range—is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Lesser known is that the city has developed into a thriving home for businesses with one of the highest job rates in the country. The Milken Institute recently named Bend the “Best-Performing Small City for 2016.”

Much of Bend’s success has been fueled by the outdoor industry, fostering an entrepreneurial environment with tremendous growth potential in a competitive industry. Bend collaborates with some of the most innovative outdoor recreation companies found anywhere. Established companies such as Hydro Flask and Ruffwear have been joined by younger brethren that have either started in or relocated to Bend.

The city is home to the country’s first outdoor industry incubator in the U.S., Bend Outdoor Worx, and its university, Oregon State University-Cascades, is in the process of establishing the nation’s first outdoor products program.

“Bend enjoys a truly collaborative environment,” says Scott Allan, general manager of Bend’s Hydro Flask, a key contributor to the OSU-Cascades program. “Everyone is not only supportive of each other, but excited to see one another grow. We share the same trails, rivers and slopes, and ultimately share a similar vision to help Bend succeed. Continuing to fuel the outdoor economy in central Oregon is key for the long-term success of our community.” 

Bend has been able to attract outdoor industry businesses in part because the pursuit of a high quality of life and passion for the outdoors, are the reasons Bend exists in the first place.

“It has been remarkable to watch Bend grow from a center of outdoor recreation to a premier hub for the outdoor industry,” says Kevney Dugan, president and CEO of Visit Bend, the city’s destination marketing organization. “The outdoor amenities—Mt. Bachelor, mountain bike trails, world-class golf courses, sheer rock faces and the Deschutes River, to name a few—attract so many visitors. But those amenities also work as an outdoor laboratory and inspire innovation.”

Here, recreation marries perfectly with business, forever baking a work-life balance into the culture. A quick lunchtime mountain bike ride, a midday group ride or a few early morning runs at Mt. Bachelor are easily and frequently accomplished within the course of a workday. Simply put, in Bend the only thing standing between you and nature is your office door.

This unique lifestyle has proven to help outdoor companies recruit and retain top talent.

“Bend’s balance between work and recreation is often named by businesses and individuals alike as among the chief reasons why they want to relocate to the area,” says Roger Lee, CEO of Economic Development for Central Oregon. “That balance helps the region differentiate itself from big cities, where such a live-work-play mix is impossible.”

Despite its moderate size, Bend’s infrastructure is up to the task of supporting business. The region has upped its game in regard to everything from technology infrastructure (there’s a reason why Facebook and Apple have data centers here) to restaurants, breweries and increasingly urban entertainment.

A regional hub, Bend stands out from similar cities its size in terms of transportation infrastructure. Redmond Municipal Airport offers daily nonstop service to every Western hub, putting nearly every major destination in the U.S. and Asia within one stop (or less) from Bend. And Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle are relatively short drives away.

The old saying is that, “The hardest part of visiting Bend is leaving Bend.” The most fortunate ones, though, are those in Bend who are already home.

Stop dreaming about relocating your business to Bend and start planning it by visiting www.edcoinfo.com/outdoor

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