KORE—Canada’s first craft outdoor industry cluster is right here in the Kootenays
“Craft gear made here” encourages buying locally
Industry clusters are the new darling of economic development. To spur economic growth, political and business leaders are increasingly turning to the creation of such geographically-centred economic clusters. Silicon Valley is the premier example of a supercluster; it’s a large-scale region in California populated by some of the world’s largest high-tech corporations. Locally, Metal Tech Alley is our Kootenay example of a cluster, which is centred around Trail and supports businesses in the circular economy.
Some innovators in the Kootenays have now taken this model to drive economic growth and applied it to an element that defines the Kootenays—outdoor recreation.
The Kootenay Outdoor Recreation Enterprise (KORE) Initiative is the first cluster in Canada to spur economic development in the outdoor gear industry, according to KORE’s executive director, Kevin Pennock. It’s a grassroots non-profit organization based out of Kimberley, B.C.
Pennock, Kimberley mayor Don McCormick and Matt Mosteller came up with the idea in 2018 over coffee. Mosteller’s nickname, “Powder Matt,” alludes to his love of skiing. He is KORE’s board chair and is senior vice president at Resorts of the Canadian Rockies.
“KORE brings together all the outdoor gear makers and creators in the Kootenay region into an industry cluster to foster collaboration, growth and innovation, and to attract others to start up or relocate,” said Pennock.
British Columbia has a successful history as an incubator for outdoor product design and development.
“Brands such as Arc’teryx, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Lululemon Athletica were all founded in British Columbia,” Pennock said, “and smaller brands are now organically being created and scaling throughout B.C. and the Kootenays.”
The cluster is growing even faster than expected and now comprises over 40 outdoor recreation gear makers and designers. Below, Kevin Pennock and Matt Mosteller described their initiative and its successes to date.
What are KORE’s purposes and goals?
Matt: KORE is an outdoor recreation economy incubator. We are focused on the sustainable development of our recreation/outdoor economy through support and development of local craft outdoor gear makers and designers.
We’re attracting investment, furthering a new business sector and adding to the authentic-yet-sophisticated cultural and economic milieu of the Kootenays.
Who thought of this idea? Is it truly the first one in Canada?
Matt: I have seen the positive change in U.S. states like Washington, Montana, Colorado and more, which have pivoted from reliant only on the resource sector to creating a new opportunity that specifically cannot only benefit urban areas but can really make a difference in the rural economy and that is development of the outdoor economy for rural regions—in our case the Kootenay region of British Columbia.
This is a first in Canada, and it became possible when Kevin Pennock, Mayor Don McCormick and I had coffee back in 2018 to discuss a new way of economic development for rural mountain towns. With the financial support from the BC Rural Dividend fund, KORE became a reality in April 2020.
Why does this alliance fit so well with the Kootenays?
Matt: We have incredible natural landscape here, and this wildness fuels our interest in getting outside. It also provides a spark for powerful creativity and innovation to create and test outdoor gear that rocks. As well, getting outside in different seasons and dealing with whatever Mother Nature throws our way make our collective creators more resilient and more determined. This crew does not give up and always finds a way to be better.
You describe one of your goals as a new manufacturing economy: the small-scale, craft outdoor gear economy. Why is that important to you?
Matt: We think it is another step—to not only design gear here but to have more of it built here too. We can do this in a more environmentally friendly way, more sustainable, and create jobs right here.
What types of businesses or individuals are welcome to join your alliance? How many businesses or individuals are part of your alliance?
Kevin: Currently KORE is a business network and alliance, and there is no membership fee. There is a cluster of over 40 outdoor recreation gear makers and designers within the KORE collective. These businesses have all started organically because of the allure of the Kootenays and the mountain lifestyle, and the goal is to provide support and resources to assist the businesses to grow and scale and to attract new start-ups and outdoor brand relocation.
What services do you offer these businesses/individuals?
Matt: We provide a full stack of resources. It’s a collaborative approach of sharing knowledge to find best solutions for any challenge or opportunity from marketing and market development to finance and funding to supply chain to material sourcing and everything in-between.
Are you being successful at attracting investment dollars?
Matt: We are in the early stages and have absolutely exceeded all expectations. Stay tuned as more awareness germinates and creates attractive opportunities not only for small to mid-size gear makers to locate here but also for investment in current craft gear makers as they scale.
How would you describe your successes?
Matt: Success is seen everyday in the eyes of our craft gear makers as they share their excitement for the innovative gear they are making right here. To be part of something that matters—that is sustainable, innovative job creation and is focused on being environmental stewards in our local communities.
Kevin: KORE recently received funding from the Economic Trust of the Southern Interior BC (ETSI-BC) for two Business Recovery Advisors to work one-on-one with the KORE businesses to provide access to resources and funding. ETSI-BC has also funded KORE for a research study to assess the feasibility of a Kootenay-based advanced manufacturing venture specializing in outdoor product fabrication using a hot-bonding technology for ultralight tents and backpacks.
What are you most excited about in the near-future?
Matt: We are excited about it all! Most importantly our creative and passionate people and we are fortunate to live and work in this incredible landscape.
Kevin: KORE is working on many new initiatives such as collaborating with industry to develop awareness and uptake of e-recreation vehicles such as e-bikes, e-snowmobiles, e-motos and e-watercraft. KORE is also researching opportunities for a Kootenay-based third-party logistics and fulfillment centre and developing KORE marketing and e-commerce support for the businesses within the KORE alliance.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Kevin: Awesome craft gear is made right here in the Kootenays, and we encourage everyone to consider buying local. Go to our website and check out the Makers page to see the gear that is Kootenay-made and -designed.
Everyone is welcome in our alliance. Have an idea for craft gear? Let us know.