By Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter
Like our traditional industries of agriculture, mining, forestry and tourism, some of Idaho's most successful newer businesses and sources of new employment are based in rural areas and dependent on access to our wonderful natural assets.
Recreational technology or "rec-tech" is an industry focused on our Idaho outdoor lifestyle and the equipment used to enjoy it. And it's a big part of our Project 60 initiative to create more career opportunities right here at home.
If you fish, hunt, hike, bike, golf, ski or pursue any number of other outdoor leisure activities, you've used equipment that may have been designed or manufactured in Idaho. Those companies are finding that Idaho is a great fit for them. After all, they have a real-life laboratory to test their equipment right outside their doors.
From boats and guns to optics, ski clothing and knives, rec-tech has a lot to offer Idaho's economy. It's projected to have substantially stronger growth here in Idaho than nationally.
The outdoor recreation industry already generates about $154 million in annual State tax revenue for Idaho while producing about $2.2 billion a year in retail sales and services. About 37,000 Idahoans are employed in the rec-tech sector. And with so much rural landscape and so many smaller communities in Idaho, it's an industry that works well with our lifestyle. About 70 percent of rec-tech companies are located in Idaho's smaller cities.
One interesting development is the recent creation of a consortium of boat builders in the Lewiston area. This cluster of aluminum boat builders along the Snake River is working with similar companies in Clarkston, Washington to sell their products globally. There now are at least nine boat companies in the Snake River Boat Builders' Export Program 2010, and they already are getting some attention from Germany. A trade mission of European boat buyers will visit the Lewiston-Clarkston area in November and the consortium will attend a trade show in Germany in January.
The companies in this consortium employ about 140 people and their focus on exports has the potential of growing employment in that region.
In Grangeville, Idaho Sewing for Sports is seeing a surge in business and is expected to quadruple its revenue over the next two years. The company completed a contract earlier this year to make protective gear and training suits for law enforcement officers. The flexibility of the company has taken it from producing all the padding for the speed-skating tracks at the 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City to making chairlift seat covers for ski resorts. Adding product lines helps this small company stabilize its employment base, an important factor in a small rural community where job options are few.
There are rec-tech companies of all sizes reporting success stories and expansions, and Idaho is benefitting.
Take Lucky Bums, a children's outdoor clothing designer in Boise. It doubled its sales this past year. And Aire Inc., an inflatable boat manufacturer in Meridian, has seen a significant uptick in sales, even with its middle- and high-end products. In Coeur d'Alene, a new company called ATAV Inc. has established operations to build its all-terrain, all-climate vehicle that you just have to see to believe.
Biketronics in Moscow, a high-tech fabrication company that makes electronic components for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, relocated from its 3,500-square-foot shop into an 8,000-square-foot building this summer. And when I reached out to employers in our neighboring states that raised taxes earlier this year -- inviting them to move to Idaho -- it's not surprising that Next Generation Arms, a rifle manufacturer from Oregon, was one of the takers. They moved to Hayden over the summer.
Nightforce Optics in Orofino recently was awarded a $25 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense for its gun scopes. The company's products will be used by special force for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps snipers.
Of course, I love to recount the story of Buck Knives' move to Idaho. The company closed up shop in San Diego to move its corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility to Post Falls, Idaho, several years ago. The company's owners were lured by the cost efficiencies Idaho offers, but many of their workers came too, lured by affordability and lifestyle. What you might not know is that Buck Knives -- which manufactured more than a million knives in 2008 -- has been pulling back some of its production from China and moving it into the Post Falls facility. Idaho's business environment is one big reason why.
Whether the company or the town in which it's doing business is big or small, it all amounts to one thing -- advancing our Project 60 goals with more jobs and career opportunities for Idahoans. We're seeing the growth of a dynamic new industry that's a great fit for Idaho and our people. And the best is yet to come.