Montrose, CO — Can Montrose become the epicenter of small outdoor retail manufacturing in western Colorado? With high-speed internet and worker training, experts in outdoor manufacturing say... yes.
City of Montrose staff joined members of Region 10 and the Montrose Economic Development Corporation Monday as Colorado Outdoors hosted a meeting with outdoor apparel manufacturers to brainstorm avenues to bring more productivity to Montrose.
The Cut & Sew Industry Consortium meeting was held on the City of Montrose campus and featured a presentation by the outdoor retailer, writer, and designer Kury Gray. Gray has a long history in the retail outdoor industry spanning decades and is a regular trade writer for Textile Insight magazine.
Representatives from SOM Footwear of Montrose joined producers from Seek Outside, a backpacking company based in Grand Junction, and Voormi, an outdoor product and apparel manufacturer headquartered in Pagosa Springs.
Gray's presentation about the state's billion-dollar outdoor retail industry focused primarily on indicators he sees with Montrose becoming a destination for outdoor manufacturing.
A July 2018 report commissioned by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife concluded Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy has grown to $62.5 billion, which is almost double from five years ago. Outdoor recreationists in Colorado spent over $36.8 billion dollars on trips and equipment in 2017.
The state’s outdoor recreation industry now supports 511,000 jobs, according to the study. Fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching now combine to fuel over $5 billion dollars of annual economic output.
Spending in Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry now makes up 10 percent of the state’s annual GDP.
Montrose is already known for co-working initiatives with a local start-up, Proximity, becoming known internationally for its co-working innovations. One idea floated Monday was developing a co-manufacturing center where several outdoor apparel makers can share labor to develop more "Made in Colorado" labeled products.
Gray said having a "co-manufacturing" center is an innovation many companies in the outdoor manufacturing industry are pursuing. Gray said, for example, a co-manufacturing center utilizing a labor pool between "25 and 125" workers, along with some automation, can allow smaller outdoor companies to "make products faster to get them to customers quicker."
Using state and federal data, Gray's presentation noted the average wage for sewing machine operators in Denver is $12.91 per hour. A seamstress or tailor in the Denver area makes about $19.19 per hour, on average. Gray noted the average wage for a cut-and-sew apparel worker in Grand Junction is $13.72 per hour.
Using this wage data, Gray found sewing machine operators and seamstresses made at or above the median yearly income for workers living within Denver, Arapahoe, Jefferson, Broomfield and Mesa counties. Gray said this data supports his theory that Montrose could add more jobs through apparel manufacturing and, with infrastructure like broadband internet in place, become a prime destination for investment.
"Lots of textile producers are looking for places like Montrose," Gray said.
(Kurt Gray speaks about the growing outdoor retail industry in Colorado during a meeting in Montrose January 14)
Colorado Outdoors is currently looking to develop properties within the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority (MURA) boundaries on the city's northwest side. With Mayfly Outdoors currently building its new world headquarters there, Colorado Outdoors is seeking new ways to bring more outdoor manufacturing to the development.
"We want to find out what we would need to attract you guys and other businesses to come to Montrose and Colorado Outdoors," Doug Dragroo, chairman of Mayfly Outdoors said.
Of the three Colorado manufacturers attending Monday’s meeting, Voormi is the largest producer of outdoor apparel with factories in Colorado and California.
Dan English, the chief executive officer of Voormi, said due to regulations in California he would rather move all operations back to Colorado rather than sharing workers with large outdoor manufacturers.
"We want to be out of California and back into Colorado," English said of that state's regulation. "Structured correctly, Montrose could really rock this, and with a gig internet here, we can reach anyone."
English said he was impressed with the development at the MURA site and the strides Colorado Outdoors and the city have made in developing a vision for the area.
Gray said investments by the City of Montrose that are turning the MURA development into a "ready to build" location, along with the area’s new designation as an "opportunity zone," are making Montrose attractive to the outside world as a perfect place to invest in manufacturing.
"It (MURA) rivals anything anywhere being developed in the United States," English said. “The real ah-ha moment for us with Montrose was the gig internet here."
English said he has concerns about the Montrose’s ability to provide early childhood care and affordable housing for his workers, and a supply of labor with knowledge of textile manufacturing.
Virgil Turner, director of citizen engagement for the City of Montrose, said the city has been meeting with local colleges to see if more vocational training can be created to "connect local training with local companies."
"What I need to see is movement in workforce housing, early childcare, and other essential services for people moving here," English said.
Turner said that when the city was faced with challenges in developing rural broadband, city administrators and members of the City Council saw the benefit in high-speed internet and came together to overcome those challenges. In 2018 the city conducted a housing survey to help city officials develop a strategy to increase occupancy while decreasing rent amounts, which have risen by 56 percent over the past five years, according to Turner.
"We solved broadband, and we will solve housing," Turner said. "The problems we are challenged with are short-term."
English said he was impressed with this methodical approach to development in Montrose stating, “some communities are focused on the dollars, rather than community values."
"We are not chasing the dollars, we are chasing the community values,” Turner said.
Other issues discussed Monday were logistics of shipping raw materials to Montrose and transporting finished products to outside markets.
"If shipping makes sense, we want to be in Montrose," English said.
For more city news visit: CityOfMontrose.org.