Michigan Outdoor Summit to strengthen the leisure industry

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Michigan’s past as an auto industry powerhouse is set to intersect with its future as an innovation incubator, particularly in the outdoor recreation sector.

Imagine a meeting of earth conservationists, hunters, fat tire cyclists, wilderness providers and policy experts trying to help build a vision for the future, health and vitality of the world. outside of Michigan.

That place and time for that to happen is this weekend at the inaugural Michigan Outdoor Summit in Traverse City. The event aims to find common ground, grow Michigan’s outdoor industry, and increase the user base of the state’s rich outdoor recreation resources.

This event – and the vision behind it – is poised to have a huge impact on rural communities, home to Michigan’s many recreational opportunities and also where innovators and entrepreneurs are gaining ground.

With the COVID pandemic, the outdoors has never been more of a priority: when we couldn’t get together, dine out, or attend large-scale events, we could get outside. Michigan’s recreational heritage is well established: over 8 million acres of publicly accessible land, 12,000 miles of trails, 4,500 miles of Great Lakes coastline and access to lakes, rivers and streams, a network of trails without equal.

It is more than a blessing for its inhabitants. It is an economic power.
In Michigan, outdoor recreation generates $9.5 billion in economic impact, 108,673 jobs, and $4.6 billion in wages and salaries annually, according to 2020 data from the U.S. Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis Trade.

“There’s movement around the outdoor industry and how it’s focused and its industry strategy around it,” said Brad Garmon, director of the Michigan Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry, which operates within of the State Department of Natural Resources. “We understand that in Michigan because we have the auto industry sector. But outdoor recreation is now an identifiable, measurable and tangible sector of the economy – COVID has really fueled it.

The outdoor summit is designed to bring together groups that have traditionally had their own orbits – conservationists, hunters, hikers, RV owners, mountain bikers and more.

“Our community – the land conservation community – we have direct ties and engagement with the outdoor industry,” said Chris Bunch, executive director of Six Rivers Land Conservancy and chairman of the Heart Board. of the Lakes, one of the conference organizers. “All people who want to protect the land are also users, but a lot of the wider user population may not think much about conservation and to the extent that they do, that’s the big national news.”

The summit will bring together representatives from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors of the outdoor industry.

“We felt it was important to bring together these constituencies that have so much in common and such an interest in conservation in general, to bring them together, to connect them on shared values ​​and interests,” Bunch said. “The land conservation organizations hold their own conferences, the outdoor association has its own conference – we decided we needed to develop an opportunity to share those interests.”

The groups share a common goal of growing the outdoor recreation user base and engaging with other outdoor users.

Across the state, there is interest in increasing the economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry.

“A lot more people have gone outside and realized the need to preserve and access the outdoors,” Bunch said.

As of the end of last week, about 70 people were registered for the conference, according to Qing Tiffany, communications events coordinator at Six Rivers Land Conservancy. With last minute registrations, the event is expected to attract over 100 people.

“The underlying theme of all of this is opening the door…let people find what excites them about all of this,” Bunch said. “We expect next year to be bigger and better.”

The agenda mixes outdoor activities with indoor educational trails and round tables. The event kicks off with keynote speaker Rebecca Gillis, state and local government affairs manager for the Outdoor Industry Association.

Sessions are mixed between conversations about sustainability, corporate responsibility and legal issues, “wilderness therapy” and backcountry cooking, and active events like a rock climbing clinic, the beer yoga and hiking in the Timbers Recreation Area of ​​the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.

And it’s not just a diverse group of hunters, fat-tire bikers and kayakers debating the future of Michigan’s outdoor economy. Contractors, advocacy groups and state government departments are weighing in.

Giving entrepreneurs in rural communities a seat at the table is key, Garmon said.

“We found that there is a lot, especially in rural communities, of ideas coming from Marquette, Houghton, etc.,” he said. “Products are launched there, we can watch and see what they’re doing, what’s incubating right next to them.

“There is a role for organized entities to also do this work, they can push too,” Garmon added. “This conference is one of the first steps outside of state government to walk alongside, to be a partner of the state in this effort. … This one is meant to encompass the broadest spectrum: people that make things, nonprofits, an organized user base, but we’ve never had a big umbrella, a big outdoor tent from an industry perspective.

Inviting small businesses into this tent is key.

“We spend a lot on outdoor recreation,” Garmon said. “Tourism, hospitality, tourism, retail – we buy a lot of outdoor gear – all of these numbers indicate that Michigan has a strong outdoor economy. But we have a low number of outdoor gear manufacturing jobs in a state known for manufacturing.

The disconnect between this strong appetite for equipment and business and not being a player in equipment manufacturing to take advantage of these opportunities is the focus of this conference: how Michigan entrepreneurs and innovators can they be part of this industry?

As Garmon points out, “The money we spend on equipment goes to companies in Colorado, Utah, or wherever.”

There is a great opportunity for Michigan communities to look at their outdoor recreation through a new lens – one that aims to launch entrepreneurs and innovators into this industry.

“How many of these smaller automakers could also contribute to strong leisure products? To me, that’s a really easy and subtle pivot for a strong economy that fits well with the state’s strategy.

The goal is to paint a picture of Michigan’s supply chain capacity and capabilities – manufacturers, designers, prototypers, and map where this innovation is happening. There is an intentional effort to tie it to Michigan’s heritage as an auto manufacturing state.

in Southeast Michigan, there is support for aligning these critical conversations.

“When it comes to mobility, the intersection of how people and goods move with the outdoor industry is extremely relevant and important right now,” said Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto. and Vice President of Automotive and Mobility Initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

The MICHauto Innovator Xchange will create an access point for startups and technology companies – creators of innovation – through direct engagement with OEMs, suppliers and other consumers of innovation.

“There’s a lot of start-up activity in the area of ​​mobility and electrification,” Stevens said. “We want this to be as much for rural areas as it is for urban areas.”

Although not part of the Outdoor Summit, Marquette entrepreneur and innovator David Ollila exemplifies what can be done. He is working to create an innovation district, Shophouse Park, that can meet the needs of outdoor recreation and connect it to Michigan’s mobility engine.

The Shophouse Park Innovation Center is expected to open within the next six to eight months; its goal is to attract regional opportunities to create an innovation district to build these businesses. It connects a host of rural opportunities, Ollila said: remote working, outdoor recreation, mobility, connected green building, smart and electrified trails, to name a few.

“We have such a ripe opportunity to rewrite the rural value proposition,” Ollila said. “There are a number of factors that play into this. One is the great COVID reset – we’ve paused to focus on what’s really important.

This reset may indicate that rural communities are a more valuable place to live, from a quality of life perspective.

“Rural communities have run their economy with extractive activity (think mining) with some tourism. Tourism does not create a level playing field from an economic point of view, it actually creates a divide,” Ollila said.

In a rural community where tourism is the backbone of the economy, this provides an opportunity for the upper class and the wealthiest individual to access. However, they do not invest in the community. The jobs created are at the lower end of the service economy.

“Now with remote work, the digitization of all of our lives, and the underlying reason for the great resignation is that we’re all taking stock of what’s important…it’s changing how rural communities will be able to participate in the economy.

Behind the Michigan Outdoor Summit

The summit is organized by the Land of Outsiders. Featured sponsors are Heart of the Lakes, mParks, and the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance. Contributing sponsors include:
Michigan Bureau of Outdoor Recreation Industry
Pure Michigan Business Connect
Six Rivers Land Conservancy
Why the bars
Brewing workshop
Northern hinterland
Board review
Protect our winters
Good Adventures of Grizzly
Chris Lampen-Crowell, co-owner of Gazelle Sports, co-chair of the National Running Industry Diversity Coalition

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