Montana's outdoor recreation economy accounts for a larger share, 5.1%, of the state's Gross Domestic Product than every other state in the nation besides Hawaii, according to a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
“Outdoor recreation has quickly grown to be a powerhouse in Montana, representing over 5% of our economy and $70 billion in annual consumer spending, while creating over 71,000 jobs," said Rachel VandeVoort, director of Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation.
And Missoula is capitalizing on the state's appeal by attracting companies focused on outdoor recreation.
A small California-based adventure footwear manufacturing company called Bedrock Sandals is moving its manufacturing facility to Missoula, according to company founders, the Missoula Economic Partnership and the Montana Governor's Office of Economic Development.
The company sells sandals at retail outlets like REI in Missoula, where a staff member said they've been popular. The sandals are "adventure grade" similar to Chaco sandals, and Bedrock works with Vibram for the soles.
“We wanted a place with better backyard access to rivers and mountains, a more affordable cost of living, and more seasons for testing and developing new footwear,” said co-founder Nick Pence. “We looked for new landscapes to explore, a more sustainable atmosphere to continue building our homegrown business, and a better environment that suits our ethos and lifestyles. Missoula’s down-to-earth feel, outdoor recreation, and sense of community hit all the marks.”
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The company will start out with 5-7 employees in Missoula next year. They haven't disclosed their exact location yet but the Missoula Economic Partnership said they'll be inside city limits. The new headquarters will host office space, a flagship retail store and a workshop for in-house repairs and resoles.
Big Sky Fulfillment, a Missoula distribution company, will handle inventory and distribution for Bedrock. Through their environmental stewardship “1% for the Planet” program, Bedrock has already started giving back to Missoula-based organizations like Clark Fork Coalition and Adventure Cycling.
“I’m a huge fan of Bedrock Sandals, and excited to welcome Nick, Dan and their team to Montana,” VandeVoort said. "The Office of Outdoor Recreation is here to help companies like Bedrock leverage our unique ecosystem of skilled workers, public lands, and access to resources that sustain and inspire our best ideas.”
Pence and co-founder Dan Opalacz are currently located in a solar-powered warehouse in the Bay Area and say they're going to have a new product launch in March.
“Bedrock is what we consider a best-fit business, one that builds long-term success around great people, a great place, and a great product," said Missoula Economic Partnership CEO Grant Kier. "It’s been a pleasure to get to know them and help them make Missoula their home."
According to a report from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, manufacturing employment has grown much faster in Montana than the U.S. overall since the Great Recession. Montana manufacturing employment increased from 19,841 jobs in 2010 to 23,896 jobs in 2016, a jump of 20.4%. The national increase in manufacturing jobs was 8.3% in the same timeframe, from 12.1 million workers to 13.1 million.