The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
While searching for a new headquarters for their fly-fishing company in 2014, David Dragoo and his father, Doug, kept returning to undeveloped farmland on the north end of Montrose. The pair, whose business, Mayfly Outdoors, was then based in Colorado Springs, had toured sites in Arizona and California but knew Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy was booming and that a growing number of the state’s residents were looking to work where they played. The 164-acre parcel of land along the Uncompahgre River, they believed, would allow them to take advantage of both trends to develop an outdoors mecca—part business park, part playground—that could attract other adventure companies to the Western Slope town.
That vision came to fruition this past month when Mayfly became the first resident of the $200 million Colorado Outdoors campus. The development—funded by the company as well as state and local incentives—hopes to house gear manufacturing, administrative, retail, and hospitality operations and is the first of its kind in Colorado. It won’t be the last: A comparable 146-acre, $30 million setup, the Riverfront at Las Colonias Park, will open this winter along the Colorado River in Grand Junction. Along with providing access to trails, fishing, and other adventure opportunities, both hope to jump-start beautiful but often overlooked regions of the state. “We wanted to diversify our economy,” says Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, “and we were seeing a lot of growth in outdoor recreation—especially with regard to manufacturing and new technology.”
Colorado’s outdoor industry is certainly on the rise: The state estimates the sector generated $62.5 billion in 2017, nearly double the total five years ago. Montrose and Grand Junction could use some of those dollars. Although Montrose County has an unemployment rate of not quite four percent, slightly higher than the state’s 3.3 percent, the area’s average wage is $39,520, around $10,000 less than Colorado’s. While he won’t speculate on what future tenants of the Colorado Outdoors project might pay their workers, David says they could produce 1,600 jobs—many of them in the high-paying manufacturing sector. The Riverfront project, which is being built by the city of Grand Junction (regional average wage: $44,408), could add 300 jobs; zip-line maker Bonsai Design and bike rack manufacturer RockyMounts have already agreed to move their headquarters to the site.
Leaders in Montrose and Grand Junction also realize that while they might lack access to big-city trappings, they do have something that is particularly appealing to the outdoor industry: the outdoors. To stay competitive, both developments feature open space and trails along with amenities including an open-air amphitheater at Riverfront and a hotel at Colorado Outdoors. Mayfly’s subsidiaries, Abel Automatics and Ross Reels, even helped rehab the Uncompahgre. “There’s world-class fishing a few hundred feet from my office,” David says. Hopefully for Montrose, that’s access other brands will want to share.