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November 21, 2017

Strong Maine outdoors brand seen as key to attracting more young people to live here

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Steve Smith, president and CEO of L.L.Bean, makes a point at a news conference in Portland on Monday about the Maine Outdoor Brands initiative and its potential for strengthening Maine's economy.

A coalition of outdoor business and entrepreneurs in Maine is collaborating on a branding effort they hope will lure young people to live and work in the state, which they see as an essential step toward strengthening the state's economy.

The Maine Outdoor Brands alliance began with six members less than a year ago, but now has nearly 30 in a collaboration that organizers say will give the outdoor industry a "stronger voice" in business development efforts.

At a news conference Monday to introduce the alliance, founder Jim Hauptman said a main goal is to help Maine "with one of its most pressing challenges, attracting young people to our state."

Hauptman said while the need for more young people in the state isn't news — Maine has a median age of 44.5, the oldest in the nation — the organization can be a unique driver for attracting more young people into the state. He cited an Outdoor Industry Association report stating 48.8% of Americans participated in outdoor activity in 2016, while in Maine the number was 70%.

"The number of outdoor brands headquartered in Maine is significant," Hauptman said. "As a group, we can form a stronger voice to help leverage the fact that Maine is an outdoor state to the greater effect [than] these companies individually [might accomplish], thus making a bigger impact on potential job growth and the overall state economy."

Promoting Maine's outdoor brand

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Jim Hauptman, founder of Maine Outdoor Brands and managing partner of Blaze Partners.

The outdoors industry is directly responsible for 76,000 Maine jobs, according to the report, paying $2.2 billion in wages and salaries and $548 million in state and local taxes. Between recreation, products, events and other outdoor-related activities, it adds an aggregate $8.2 billion a year to the state's economy.

Hauptman, who is also managing partner for the marketing firm Blaze Partners, said the average age of Maine Outdoor Brand members is 35. Promoting the state's outdoors industry and culture will attract more like-minded younger people to Maine, he said.

The group hopes to promote sustainable economic development by strengthening Maine-based outdoor brands, and will provide knowledge sharing, collaborative marketing efforts and access to professional resources for members.

One of the first projects of the group will undertake is representing member brands at the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show, which will be held in Denver from Jan. 25-28.

The group will also work with the Maine International Trade Center on coordinating grants to members who want to exhibit at or participate in Outdoor Retailer Shows — expos held three times a year that are the world's leading business-to-business trade shows, according to the branding group.

'Better together'

Courtesy / BST Photography, Brian Threlkeld
Courtesy / BST Photography, Brian Threlkeld
Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park offers challenging outdoor adventure opportunities, particularly in the winter.

Maine Outdoor Brands member businesses include outdoor-related startups like Scarborough-based Flowfold and Biddeford-based Hyperlite Mountain Gear, which make a variety of outdoor gear and accessories; dehydrated food-maker Good To-Go; outdoor sports company Carrabassett Valley-based Winterstick Snowboards and Old Town Canoes & Kayaks, which is owned by Racine, Wisc.-based Johnson Outdoors Inc. but still has a significant presence in Old Town. But it also has member partners like the Bernstein Shur law firm and Nancy Marshall Communications as partners who help member businesses with legal matters and marketing.

L.L.Bean is also a member.

L.L.Bean President and CEO Steve Smith said at the news conference that the Freeport-based company "could be a really good big brother" to many of the smaller businesses and startup members.

Even with its size and scope of operations, he said L.L.Bean nevertheless has a lot in common with the other members of the alliance. "We're constantly reinventing ourselves and our products," he added.

Smith also said L.L. Bean shared the alliance's goal of strengthening the state's overall economy. "Though we are competitors, we are always better together," he said.

Also speaking was David Koorits of Kittery-based Good To-Go, an early Maine Outdoor Brands member.

While most of his customers are out of state, Koorits said, the Kittery-based business "does everything right here in Maine, and we're proud to be Mainers."

"I always wanted myself and Good To-go to be part of something bigger," he said.

He, like others at the news conference, said Maine already means something to people in other states.

"It's so cool to be on the West Coast and have people say, 'Oh, this is the Maine company,'" Koorits said.

'Maine is an outdoor brand'

Courtesy / BST Photography, Brian Threlkeld
Courtesy / BST Photography, Brian Threlkeld
Maine islands provide opportunities for biking thanks to ferries that provide access to them for residents and visitors alike.

George Gervais, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, said the alliance's effort will help the state's economy.

"Those of us in state government who understand business look forward to working with this program," he said.

Gervais cited several state development programs — including Community Development Block Grants, the Maine Technical Institute and the Maine Made marketing program, in which 2,000-plus companies are registered— as playing a role in supporting outdoor products manufacturing and the state's outdoor industry.

He also said the Maine Office of Tourism, which helps bring 38 million tourists a year to the state, is a big part of state economic development.

"Being outdoors in Maine is certainly what we sell," he said. "For people who have moved away, it's memories of Maine's outdoors that bring them back."

Gervais added that the branding alliance will also strengthen the message to "those 38 million who already have an affinity for the state."

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine — who Hauptman said wanted to be at the conference but had scheduling conflicts — spoke via recorded video.

"Maine is an outdoor brand," King said, quipping that the alliance will broaden the view that Maine is a place with "lobsters and maybe a little bit of skiing." The branding alliance, he said, will let people know we also make the skis.

About Maine Outdoor Brands alliance

The group is run by a board of directors and advisory board made up of industry professionals "experienced in launching, growing and managing a profitable portfolio of consumer brands," according to the news release that accompanied Monday's press conference.

Maine Outdoor Brands alliance has two membership tiers, according to its website. Member/service brands members are Maine-based companies who design and manufacture products that enable and encourage outdoor recreation or whose services facilitate participation and exploration of outdoor recreation. They pay dues based on revenue from the previous year.

It also has partners, who are affiliate experts who can assist alliance members through advertising, public relations, accounting, legal counsel and other business development areas. They pay a flat yearly fee.

Members of the board of directors are David Koorits, of Good To-Go (Kittery); Alicia MacLeay, of trailspace.com (Belgrade Lakes); James Morin, of Flowfold (Scarborough); Brian Threlkeld, of BST Photography (Portland); John Milburn, of Stabil (Biddeford); and Hauptman, Jessie Gilligan and Jenna Klein Jonsson, all of Blaze Partners (Portland). The advisory board is still being put together.

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