North Carolina Economic Development Guide

2015

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At AdvantageWest's headquarters in Fletcher, Senior Vice President Kathi Petersen takes a headcount: 38 companies make outdoor gear in the region. Their products run the gamut. Candler-based SimpleShot Inc. makes slingshots and accessories that sell from about $40 to $500. They're not the gravel-shooters that old-timers remember. They use injection- molded polycarbonate and physics to increase accuracy and velocity. Hildebran- based DeFeet International Inc., Business Nor arolina magazine's Small Business of the Year in 2011, makes thin, strong socks that wick moisture from the feet of runners and bicyclists. Outrider USA in Fletcher makes electric-powered recum- bent tricycles, some of which retail for $12,000. Though developed for commut- ers and sport riders, its trikes hold speed records, and its three owners, who hand build each one, recently raised more than $125,000 to launch a model for disabled people. Asheville-based Mills Manufactur- ing Corp. and its subsidiary, Miltex Industries, make parachutes and compo- nents for the military. Its 175,000-square- foot plant and more than 230 employees dwarf many of the region's outdoor-gear manufacturers, but some of its output — including parachute cord in colors such as neon orange and lime green — wind up in civilian products. In Fletcher, Legacy Paddlesports LLC employs about 100 to make more than 20,000 kayaks a year at a $4.5 million plant that opened in 2013. Its kayaks range from 6- to more than 16-feet in length and are sold worldwide. Their roots may be in western North Carolina, but these outdoor-gear compa- nies have a worldwide reach that comes from easy access to interstates 26 and 40, daily fights from Asheville Regional Airport and, most important, technology. It lets little companies act big without stifing corporate inertia. "We started in a little business park, sort of like someone's basement, though we did have offce space," SylvanSport's Mundt says. Its frst product, the Go, sells for about $8,500. "We didn't build a prototype. We did the whole thing in a program called SolidWorks, which is 3-D, engineering modeling software. Everything ft perfectly and two days after completion we shipped off to the Outdoor Retail Show in Salt Lake City." Most outdoor-equipment manufacturers rely on Internet sales. Asheville-based Eagles Nest Outftters Inc., for example, sells more than $1 million of its lightweight hammocks each year online and through more than 1,500 retail outlets. Blue Ridge Chair Works uses technology to schedule drop shipments and just-in-time deliveries, which mini- mizes costly inventory. Environmental stewardship for outdoor-gear companies is a matter of not biting the hand that feeds them. "If your business is set in the outdoors, you under- stand that having a clean, natural environ- ment is vital," AdvantageWest's Raker says. 38 N o rt h C a r o l i N a E Co N o m i C D E v E lo p m E N t G u i D E Western Nor arolina outdoor-gear companies aren' utrider USA raised $125,000 dvantageWest's Advantage Opportunity Fund offers up to $75,000 in early-stage fnancing. Frank J. Bott

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