Ascent Douglas eyes the mountaintop of new industry | RecordCourier.com
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Ascent Douglas eyes the mountaintop of new industry

by Scott Neuffer
sneuffer@recordcourier.com

Douglas County officials and a select team of skilled climbers have begun an arduous ascent up the mountainside of economic prosperity.

Lisa Granahan, the county’s economic vitality manager, Rob Hooper, executive director of the Northern Nevada Development Authority, Andrew Strain, vice president of Heavenly Mountain Resort, John Endter, owner of E Squared C, and Jim Slade, international river guide, along with the help of RKPR’s Ronele Klingensmith, attended the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City last week as part of the county’s new $55,000 marketing initiative known as Ascent Douglas County.

“So far from what we’ve learned, the values of this industry really seem to be the right match for Douglas County,” Granahan said in a video of the team’s trip, which was shown to county commissioners on Thursday. “I’m very confident with this part of our action plan and the other parts that are underway. These projects all together will really help bring that goal, of creating a community to match the scenery, to reality.”

Generally speaking, the goal is to attract outdoor recreation and lifestyle industry jobs, to plant the county’s flag on the high peaks of the outdoor industry so as to proclaim the area’s preeminent business climate. Forget about the Valley’s spectacular scenery for a moment and focus instead on its ideal geographic location for distribution, or its ideal tax structure (no corporate income tax) for manufacturing.

“This is starting brand recognition: ‘Ascent Douglas County,'” Granahan said. “We want to get our brand out there. We want to get companies familiar with the opportunities here.”

On Friday, Granahan explained the team’s three-fold strategy: networking at the world’s largest outdoor sports trade show; advertising the county through online social media; and building relationships with existing outdoor sports manufacturers in the area.

On strategy one, in the midst of 850 manufacturers and 21,000 attendees in downtown Salt Lake City, Granahan said the team’s objective was connecting with “A” companies – those not only showing genuine interest in the county, but also willing to follow up.

“By Tuesday morning, we had six A’s already,” Granahan said. “We thought that if we came away with three A’s, we’d be doing really well.”

Granahan said Ascent is targeting companies with the greatest growth potential: 5-100 employees, 3-5 years old.

“Our niche was kind of around the edges of the show, those smaller companies,” she said, “less employees, younger companies that are starting to see real expansion potential.”

Without revealing names, Granahan said the team talked to a camper manufacturer, a kayak manufacturer, and an outdoor accessory producer. There was also mention of climbing gear companies.

“We tout ourselves for our great quality of life and all of this outdoor stuff that we do,” Granahan said. “There’s always the possibility to do a little bit more to make sure we’re hitting the right industry.”

On the second strategy, social marketing, the Ascent team has set up a Web site, http://www.AscentDouglas.com. They’ve also co-branded a microsite on OutdoorRetailer.com, along with banner advertisements, and have hooked into social sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

“We’ve gained a few Twitter followers,” Granahan said. “We’ve had about 130 Facebook followers. Most of those, though, are from the Northern Nevada area. Community support of this is very important, to have people buzzing about it. Now that OR (the trade show) is done and people are going back, we’ll be sending out e-mail blasts.”

On the third strategy, connecting with existing businesses, Granahan said the county is working with the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Authority.

“They have a committee, the economic and community development committee, and they’re trying to help provide information to our existing manufacturers, Aviso, North Sails, Go-Ped, about this effort we’re doing,” she said. “Business retention is really important, too, to make sure they know all of the resources that are available to them here in the community, whether it be SCORE, NSBDC, or through NNDA. It’s really our hope that when we get these new manufacturers interested, we can connect them.”

In the big picture of economic development, Ascent is only part of the county’s overall plan. Twelve focus areas and priority projects, many overlapping, have been identified for the next 12 years, ranging from downtown revitalization to a multigenerational community center.

“A lot of this outdoor recreation and lifestyle is not only about bringing manufacturing in, but starting to see infrastructure,” Granahan said.

Trails, public access, geotourism and transportation all tie in with the Ascent initiative.

“How can we make infrastructure inspiring?” Granahan said. “Going back to the county’s role, we can’t do it all, but we leverage these resources, we build partnerships, we facilitate and we communicate, and the board provides the leadership.”

“Our board solidly supports the economic vitality action planning efforts and this project,” Douglas County Commission Chairman Mike Olson said in a statement. “We are excited by the OR team’s initial report of manufacturer interest in our area.”

For more information, visit http://www.AscentDouglas.com.