Tuesday, December 11, 2018
No matter where you are, you’re never more than 6 miles from a lake, river or stream
The saying in Michigan goes, “No matter where you are, you’re never more than 6 miles from a lake, river or stream.”
The Great Lakes State boasts 3,288 miles of coastline — with 11,000 inland lakes, 36,000 miles of rivers and streams and four of the five Great Lakes (Michigan, Huron, Superior and Erie) — more than every state except Alaska. Michigan also has more than 19 million acres of forests, 12,500 miles of trails and more than 100 state parks and recreation areas that offer everything from camping and boating to a multitude of winter sports.
“Outdoor recreation is abundant, from fishing and hunting to passive recreation like hiking and biking,” said Matt Cowan, communications director for the Land Information Access Association (LIAA), a nonprofit that helps communities create sustainable natural resource plans. “We’re rich in pretty places to go from the bottom to the top of the state.”
If being outdoors is attractive to you, he said, Michigan is an attractive place to live, work and do business.
More than 60 percent of Michigan residents participate in outdoor recreational activities, according to a 2017 report from the Outdoor Industry Association, based in Washington, D.C. The organization reports Michigan’s outdoor recreation industry generates:
In 2016, Muskegon, Mich.-based KL Outdoor produced 600,000 kayaks, up from 28,000 in 2010, a 204 percent increase.
KL started out making pedal boats in 1982 and over the years expanded to kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, canoes, paddle boats, hunting blinds, sleds and portable restrooms. The company employs about 250 permanent workers — a number that swells to 400 during peak season, February through August.
New Water Capital, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based private equity firm, purchased KL Outdoor in late 2016 to help the manufacturer meet customer demand. In spring 2017, KL merged with Quebec-based GSC Technologies, making KL Outdoor/GSC Technologies the largest manufacturer of kayaks in the world.
But there was a question of where the consolidated watercraft operations should be based.
“It became obvious pretty quickly that (Muskegon) was very aggressively supporting the company,” said KL Outdoor/GSC Technologies CEO Chuck Smith.
The City of Muskegon offered KLO/GSC a 12-year tax abatement, valued at $69,000. With the company committing to invest $9.2 million in its global headquarters and create 153 jobs over three years, the State of Michigan awarded KL Outdoor a $765,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant.
“It made sense for us to be here. We create products for use on the water. A lot of our folks, who reside here, spend their waking hours on the water. Michigan was a natural,” said Smith.
KLO/GSC recently relocated its corporate offices from former warehouse space to the former SPX Corporation building in downtown Muskegon, just off Lake Michigan. Its showroom is on the first floor and offices take up about 17,000 square feet on the second floor.
The open-space office, which boasts panoramic views of Muskegon Lake and the West Michigan city, represents a cultural shift for the growing company. The office interior is a blend of contemporary and rustic lodge and a lounge area resembles an outdoor patio.
The company plans to install a dock on the lake so employees can kayak during lunch breaks and customers can test the popular water vessels.
KLO/GSC’s decision to remain in Michigan also means a bigger footprint in the Great Lakes State.
The company has five warehouse and manufacturing sites around Muskegon and, in the next 18 months, plans to build a distribution center and add about 100 employees.
“It’s a great location for us,” said Dave Harris, vice president of marketing and son of company founder Ken Harris. “We’re in the central part of the United States. Think of the number of people in Michigan and Wisconsin who hunt and fish and are on the water. That outdoors mindset is just huge.”
For Smith, consolidating KLO/GSC watercraft manufacturing operations in Muskegon and creating a more environmentally pleasing office underscores the company’s commitment to embracing Michigan’s natural resources.
“It’s an evolving culture,” he said. “We want to extend jobs to folks who have a passion or desire to be outdoors. We want them to be able to contribute to our culture. Anyone who has a passion for the outdoors, or for outdoors sports, is definitely a plus for us.”
Indeed, Andy Northrup, a statewide tourism and community development instructor at Michigan State University Extension, said companies that choose to remain in areas with recreational opportunities “attract millennials.”
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, “Communities across Michigan recognize that outdoor recreation supports health, contributes to a high quality of life and — perhaps most importantly — attracts and sustains employers and families. Investing in outdoor infrastructure attracts employers and active workforces, ensuring those communities thrive economically and socially.”
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