(HOST) Vermont’s great outdoors used to be great for outdoor equipment manufacturers, but now they’ve almost all left the state. Commentator Timothy McQuiston ponders the reasons why.
(MCQUISTON) Vermont is famous not only for its ski industry, but for its entire outdoor experience. Visitors to New York City go inside to see the theater. Travelers to Vermont go outside to enjoy life from skiing to fishing to hiking. Even golf, with its relatively short season, has grown dramatically in popularity.
But for most tourists, skiing is the signature outdoor recreational activity. Vermont boasts the largest ski industry in the East, but it’s really more than that. It’s our image.
Now Vermont ski resorts both large and small have become warm weather destinations as well. They’re promoting golf, hiking and even just sitting on a porch and reading a good book miles away from the daily grind.
But it’s that image of the rugged outdoors that truly epitomizes Vermont. And with that there has developed a significant consu- mer products industry. It’s that industry that has suffered recently.
Ski and apparel marketers Rossignol and Skis Dynastar have just announced that they will pull their distribution facilities out of Williston. While they have always been foreign-owned, the new owner is consolidating operations in Utah. Two years ago, Stowe manufacturer Tubbs Snowshoes was sold and moved administra- tion out West and production to China. Mad River Canoe, Vermont born and bred, recently left. Again, sold and moved. As did Merrill boots. As did CB Sports, which left a large hole in the Bennington economy when it moved in the early 90’s. Others who have left include CCM hockey equipment and Karhu.
There are, of course, major outdoor gear companies still in Vermont. Burton and Orvis in particular. But the question is: why have so many others left the state? Is it just the coincidence of corporate consolidation by out-of-state owners? Or is it our fault? Local labor or cost issues? State taxes? Permitting? What?
The answer the owners always provide is that they’re just consolidating operations and/or moving production overseas, usually to China. While the production always gets cheaper, corporate always seems to go to more expensive digs, like California.
Most of the companies mentioned above were not founded here but moved here because of that outdoor connection. They wanted that visceral association and the closeness to consumers. Why doesn’t that matter anymore?
Frankly, I don’t know. But I do know that it can’t be good for Vermont.
This is Timothy McQuiston.
Timothy McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business Magazine.