The owner of Colorado Springs’ best-known fly-fishing business believes there is a huge, untapped opportunity for small businesses catering to outdoor recreation enthusiasts in the area and hopes to encourage more entrepreneurs to get into the fast-growing industry.
The 5th Congressional District — which encompasses El Paso, Fremont, Teller and Chaffee counties and part of Park County — generated $2.1 billion in outdoor recreation spending in 2017 from just 65 companies. While spending is equal to Denver’s 1st District and more than suburban Denver’s 7th District, the two districts are home to 189 and 101 outdoor recreation companies, respectively, according to a recent study by the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association.
“We have amazing resources and beauty and close-to-home outdoor recreation opportunities, but the business side is so underdeveloped. Could we be missing out on an opportunity here?” Dave Leinweber said.
“There is an opportunity for small business in outdoor recreation for someone with a bold idea, whether it is in manufacturing or services. The opportunity is ripe right now for startups in the outdoor recreation industry.”
Leinweber owns Angler’s Covey, the largest fly-fishing retailer, outfitter and source of guides in the Colorado Springs area, and is also founder and chairman of the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance, a Springs-based industry trade group. He started the alliance three years ago to strengthen the industry through advocacy, leadership and collaboration with other related industries and groups.
A big part of the alliance’s mission is to grow the industry by raising awareness about outdoor recreation through its website, events such as the State of the Outdoors and this year’s Apex mountain bike race.
But the group wants to take those efforts a step further by fostering more outdoor recreation startups, so it is taking the first steps to form an incubator and accelerator for such businesses, said Becky Leinweber, executive director of the alliance and Dave Leinweber’s wife.
Outdoor recreation is a major industry across the nation and state, generating nearly $900 billion in economic activity nationwide in 2017 — 2% of the U.S. economy — and $28 billion in Colorado.
The industry is growing faster than the rest of the nation’s economy, and in Colorado is growing faster as the home of the nation’s largest outdoor retailer expo — held Jan. 29-31 in Denver — and the headquarters of $14 billion outdoor apparel giant VF Corp.
Dave Leinweber sees major opportunities for businesses that combine health care and technology with outdoor recreation, using technology to help people use the outdoors more easily and track health measurements while they are hiking, biking, fishing, hunting or other outdoor activities.
Startups offering outfitting and guiding services for those activities also could become a major source of growth for the outdoor industry, he said.
Leinweber is passionate about the outdoor recreation industry because he has spent nearly 40 years in the industry, including four years with outdoor retailer REI and seven years with Denver sporting goods icon Gart Sports before moving to Angler’s Covey in 1996.
He became a part owner a year later and bought the store in 1999. He more than tripled the size of the business when he moved Angler’s Covey to a new building at the high-profile location at U.S. 24 and 21st Street in 2004.
His passion to grow the industry and give it a higher profile stemmed from a 2014 Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce meeting, where a former CEO talked about the importance of the defense, technology and health care industries, but barely mentioned tourism.
When Leinweber asked why tourism was virtually ignored by the chamber, he was told the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau (now called Visit Colorado Springs) was the tourism industry’s chamber.
“My response was they are a marketing cooperative. They don’t foster best practices, share information, do business development or recruiting,” Leinweber said. “I wanted to see the chamber get more involved in making tourism more of an economic driver for Colorado Springs. That is how this city got started.
“Why don’t we start a program to promote outdoor recreation as an economic driver for the Colorado Springs area?”
That meeting prompted Leinweber and a few industry players to launch the alliance to help promote and expand the outdoor industry.
A few months later, Gov. John Hickenlooper launched a state Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry and named a former Vail Resorts executive, Luis Benitez, to head it. Leinweber immediately set up a meeting with Benitez to get his help in promoting and expanding the industry in the Colorado Springs area.
Nathan Fey, who now heads the state Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, said the state’s outdoor recreation industry doubled in size between 2013 and 2017 to $62 billion. The industry could easily double again by 2022 to more than $120 billion with the move of the outdoor retail expo and VF to Denver, outdoor app developer Strava opening a Denver engineering office and development of outdoor industry-focused business parks in Grand Junction and Montrose.
He also said several outdoor recreation companies are considering expanding in Colorado, including locations in the Springs.
The Outdoor Recreation Industry Office plans to hand out small grants by April to help outdoor businesses in other regions start trade groups similar to the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance.
The office also gives out planning grants annually in August to help rural communities come up with strategies to expand their outdoor industry as part of an economic development plan.
Becky Leinweber said she has met with officials in Cripple Creek about applying for a planning grant.
Today, the Pikes Peak alliance has more than 50 members and supporters, including the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, other civic and nonprofit groups, government agencies, many outdoor gear providers and outdoor recreation businesses such as rafting providers, climbing gyms and many others.
The nonprofit’s goal is to make the Pikes Peak region a top outdoor recreation destination, attract and recruit outdoor businesses and share best practices.
A key role for the alliance is advocating to make public lands more available for outdoor recreation and seeking government policies friendly to the outdoor recreation industry.
That is key to businesses such as Angler’s Covey, where outfitting and guiding fly-fishing trips generates about 25% of the store’s revenue and is the fastest growing part of the company, Dave Leinweber said.
One example — the store’s free fly-fishing classes draw about 700 participants annually.
“We do for the outdoor industry what the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region does for the arts or what the National Cybersecurity Center does for the computer security industry,” Leinweber said.
“If I can get more people to participate in outdoor recreation, then I will grow the sport of fly-fishing and drive more business.”
Contact Wayne Heilman 636-0234 Facebook www.facebook.com/wayne.heilman