Next week Utah hosts its second-annual Outdoor Recreation Summit, a celebration and discussion of the state’s outdoor brand. I’ve written how Brad Peterson, the first director of the Outdoor Recreation Office, is smartly using Utah’s lifestyle attributes to attract companies who make lifestyle products, and the Summit will in part explore Utah’s future as a regional center for lifestyle manufacturing. Executives from ENVE, 4FRNT, Lifetime Products, and Chums will lead a discussion.
Each is committed to making things in the U.S. as are others in Utah, in Colorado, in Montana, and in Arizona. Across the West, we’ll see more locally made outdoor equipment and more locally made healthy and organic food and beverages, much of it fueled by cutting-edge technology that's transforming manufacturing
The opportunities are regionwide, and though business is thriving more in some areas than others, similarities throughout the intermountain West ensure everyone's in the game. Research universities dot the landscape. Climate and topography are a magnet. And shared opportunities in other sectors like aerospace provide incentive to cooperate.
As a result it’s easy to view the West as a distinct and unique economic zone. I’m not the first to see the West this way; Colin Woodward’s analysis of regional views on gun violence led him to a more profound conclusion, but his American Nations Today still neatly captures the concept of a unified West - or in Woodward's case, a Far West.
He describes the Far West as:
'The other "second-generation" nation, the Far West occupies the one part of the continent shaped more by environmental factors than ethnographic ones. High, dry, and remote, the Far West stopped migrating easterners in their tracks, and most of it could be made habitable only with the deployment of vast industrial resources: railroads, heavy mining equipment, ore smelters, dams, and irrigation systems. As a result, settlement was largely directed by corporations headquartered in distant New York, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco, or by the federal government, which controlled much of the land. The Far West's people are often resentful of their dependent status, feeling that they have been exploited as an internal colony for the benefit of the seaboard nations. Their senators led the fight against trusts in the mid-twentieth century. Of late, Far Westerners have focused their anger on the federal government, rather than their corporate masters.'
Of course, our views on things like government are evolving. A healthy skepticism for the federal government hasn’t stopped Colorado residents from embracing local government; in fact, it's the state's number one employer. Or using elections to control the social agenda.
But economic opportunities like outdoor recreation provide a compelling and more modern lens to view the Far West's collective opportunities, as will regional responses to development challenges once local actors understand the upside of moving collaboratively.
Including calculated efforts to support the growth of maker and manufacturing business well-matched to regional attributes and assets - -like lifestyle. Join us next week to hear how several companies are doing just that.
Reach Bart Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.