Boulder Chamber View: Boulder’s outdoor industry is powering economic vitality and community prosperity

Originally published by Daily Camera on June 2, 2024.

As the vibrant spring season unfolds, there is a refreshing energy in the air that motivated me to lace up my hiking boots at 4 a.m. on a cool Saturday morning.

With a sense of adventure, I headed out to the mountains to immerse myself in the beauty of Boulder’s foothills. Moments like these remind me why I chose Boulder as the backdrop for the next chapter of my career and life journey. The great outdoors and the thriving outdoor industry not only fuel my passion but also breathe life into Boulder’s economic vitality.

I’ve quickly learned that Boulder’s outdoor recreation is a fundamental part of our city’s culture and identity, providing exceptional opportunities for outdoor adventures throughout the year. For the avid hiker, Boulder boasts over 300 miles of trails winding through pristine wilderness areas and rugged mountain terrain. For the passionate biker, Boulder offers a wide range of paths and mountain trails. And let’s not forget about the water. Boulder’s waterways offer a recreational retreat for those who enjoy activities such as kayaking in the fast-moving currents of Boulder Creek or fly fishing in the untouched Rocky Mountain streams.

Importantly, sitting in my economic vitality role at the Boulder Chamber, I recognize that Boulder’s outdoor recreation industry isn’t just about fun and adventure — it’s also a major economic driver that fuels growth, innovation, inclusivity and prosperity in the local community.

The economic impact of the outdoor industry in Boulder is remarkable. From small startups like Skratch Labs to multinational corporations such as Garmin, Boulder’s outdoor recreation companies contribute hundreds of millions annually to the local economy. In fact, Boulder’s outdoor industry is a key pillar of the city’s economic vitality, generating thousands of jobs across various sectors, driving tourism with events like the Ironman Boulder and Bolder Boulder, and attracting top talent to the area through its vibrant business ecosystem and access to world-class outdoor amenities.

Despite the challenges posed by limited industrial space, Boulder continues to attract and nurture companies in the outdoor industry, demonstrating remarkable resilience and adaptability. Renowned for its dynamic environment, Boulder has become a magnet for outdoor retail businesses and a hub for innovative product development.

Companies and their employees are naturally synergistic with Boulder’s culture and landscape. Businesses have the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge outdoor gear research in their facilities, then step outside to test their products on local trails and climbing routes. Companies like Kelty and La Sportiva benefit immensely from the city’s proximity to diverse terrains. The nearby Rocky Mountains and numerous Boulder trails provide immediate, real-world feedback on gear performance. Testing a new hiking boot on Chautauqua Park’s rugged paths or evaluating a backpack’s durability on the Royal Arch Trail ensures the highest standards before market release.

Boulder’s outdoor retail scene is a premier destination, often referred to as the “Rodeo Drive” of the outdoor industry. High-end outdoor retailers and boutique shops line the streets, offering a curated selection of top-tier outdoor equipment and apparel. This retail vibrancy attracts consumers from far and wide, fostering a thriving economic ecosystem that benefits local businesses and the community at large.

Recognizing the importance of the outdoor industry to Boulder’s economy and character, the Boulder Chamber works tirelessly to secure the industry’s foothold in our community amidst various challenges. Through collaborative initiatives and programs, the Chamber fosters innovation, cultivates partnerships and drives economic growth within this thriving sector.

With an ever-expanding network of outdoor companies, retailers and service providers, Boulder’s outdoor industry is a driving economic force. By supporting sustainable practices such as renewable energy initiatives and eco-friendly manufacturing, fostering innovation through local incubators and investing in local talent via educational partnerships with institutions like the University of Colorado Boulder, and promoting tourism, the community can ensure this growth continues. Proven examples include companies like Nite Ize, which has seen significant growth by focusing on innovative outdoor gear, and outdoor trade shows/festivals, which have brought in millions of dollars in tourism revenue. By encouraging new ideas, attracting investment, creating jobs, and driving engagement through the outdoor industry, Boulder will continue to shape a prosperous future for everyone in our city.

So, come be a part of this thriving community and experience the strong economic growth of the outdoor industry in Boulder. Why just visit when you can make Boulder home for both your business and your family?


Joseph Hovancak is vice president of economic vitality for the Boulder Chamber.

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