A new alliance of outdoor businesses plans to help grow the state’s $8.2 billion outdoor industry and entice the 38 million tourists who visit Maine to return here to live, work and play.

The group of 30 members – called Maine Outdoor Brands – is made up of Maine-based outdoor product and recreation interests. They announced their launch in Portland on Monday and expect in the next five years to help new entrepreneurs form outdoor businesses, and to encourage other outdoor manufacturers to move to Maine.

Several industry leaders said marketing the state’s well-known natural resources – the ski mountains, rugged coastlines, pristine lakes and ponds, and abundant wildlife – is an easy sell.

Several leaders of Maine’s outdoor industry say the state’s year-round recreational opportunities, including in winter, and its wild areas, rugged coastlines, pristine lakes and abundant wildlife are highly marketable. Staff file photo by David Leaming

Steve Smith, L.L. Bean’s president and CEO, said the Freeport-based retail giant is excited to serve as a “big brother” and help new companies because, he said, “We are always better together.”

“There are some numbers I wish more people knew about from the Outdoor Industry Association, which tallied up the financial contribution of our industry to the U.S.,” Smith said. “It’s not really known how big this industry is, and these numbers are real and really amazing. On an annual basis, the outdoor industry is $887 billion of consumer spending annually, 7.6 million jobs are attributed to outdoor sports, and $125 billion in federal, state and local taxes goes to government. So it’s not just about getting outside; it has a huge economic engine for the economy.”

George Gervais, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, said the new group will be assisted by several state programs that help new businesses, including grants from a $45 million bond that the department is now administering.

It won’t be hard to better promote existing outdoor companies or to help start new ones, said David Koorits, co-founder of Good-to-Go, a 3-year-old dehydrated-food company in Kittery that distributes to 300 stores nationwide. He said the Maine image is marketable.

“We look forward to seeing what Maine Outdoor Brands can do for the state,” Koorits said. “There are four outdoor ski companies who manufacture here in Maine. They’re not very well known. Using the resources we bring, we want to make them better known.”

U.S. Sen. Angus King, in a videotaped address, said Maine Outdoor Brands is a great idea because “Maine is an outdoor brand.” But King also said in his travels he finds many often associate Maine only with the coast or the mountains. He’d like to see the state’s outdoor image expand to include sailing, lakes and ponds, hiking, hunting and fishing. And he said he wants to help.

“Outdoor recreation in Maine is something like an $8 billion-a-year business, which is a significant part of our state’s product,” King said. “To bring this emphasis into focus, to give it more publicity and more attention, I just think is a great idea for the businesses involved, but also for everyone in the state.”

The first thing the Maine Outdoor Brands alliance will do is invite smaller companies to share its booth at the Outdoor Retailer Trade show in January in Denver, an event that is North America’s largest outdoor trade show, said Jim Hauptman, the alliance’s founder and a managing partner of Blaze partners, a Portland business strategy firm.

“When you go, you walk down the aisles and there are a thousand different companies from North Face to Mountain Hardware to the smaller brands. And there is always a line at the Good-to-Go booth because people love their products,” Hauptman said. “But you don’t hear of them so much in Maine. So we want to elevate these brands in their own backyard so people here are aware of them. And if we can attract more outdoor products to Maine … the more, the merrier.”

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