MichAuto > Blog > Detroit Auto Show > Michigan Becoming the ‘Rec Tech Valley’

Michigan Becoming the ‘Rec Tech Valley’

September 14, 2023

Key Takeaways:

  • Michigan can easily become a hub for the outdoor recreational technology industry by “uniting” the Upper and Lower Peninsulas and Michigan-based brands together to create quality powerhouse products.
  • Public, private, and government entities should continue making the outdoors accessible to all to encourage Michigan-based entrepreneurship.

Outdoor recreational technology – or “rec tech”– is now a trillion-dollar industry that is looking for its own Silicon Valley. Considered a “four-season” state with many recreational destinations and existing companies, Michigan is a prime location to become that “Rec Tech Valley” the industry is seeking.

During the 2023 Detroit Auto Show, Brad Garmon of the Michigan Outdoor Recreation Industry Office sat down with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Plymouth Growth Partners Investor Michelle Erikson, Shophouse Park Founder and Chief Executive Officer David Ollila, and Merrell Brand Marketing Manager Devon Vanoostveen to discuss how Michigan can take the reins in rec tech.

Create Powerful Partnerships Between Organizations and the Peninsulas

“It’s not just a Marquette thing, it’s a UP thing, and more importantly, it’s a Michigan thing,” he said. “We have a once –in-a-generation opportunity to combine the powers of both peninsulas in a way that no other state can compete with. And that’s how we can own everything on wheels and the experiences that come thereafter.”

Partnership and collaboration are not just wishful thinking for the state. Companies are already here building and creating products together. For example, Merrill, a Grand Rapids-headquartered hiking apparel company, collaborated with Jeep to create a new edition of their best-selling hiking boot. Vanoostveen said that these kinds of collaborations allow consumers the opportunity to explore Michigan’s outdoors.

“It’s two iconic Michigan brands coming together with really aligned synergies about sharing the simple power of being outside,” she said. “So, you’ll see not only it’s this visual combination representation, but it’s also the work of the design, performance, and innovators in both companies.”

Investors Must Continue Supporting the Opportunities

These kinds of collaborative opportunities can also happen in the investor world, according to Erikson, who recently discovered over 100 outdoor-related companies that are already in Michigan, with 35 of them already receiving financial support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

“There’s this huge support or a need for additional post-launch support and investible opportunities for outdoor innovation in the state, which is exciting,” she said.

Make the Outdoors Accessible to Inspire Future Entrepreneurs

In closing, the panel discussed how Michigan can maximize strategic collaboration for small and large businesses. Gilchrist saw opportunities for state governments and public and private entities to make the outdoors more accessible to all to inspire entrepreneurial ideas.

“I think the state could be a good partner in this and making sure that every person in Michigan, regardless of where they are now or where they’re from, actually sees Michigan’s outdoors as available as accessible to them,” he said. “[This] gives them a chance to not only be a consumer but may also introduce them to an experience…[leading] to more Michigan-born [and] Michigan-bred ideas, companies, and innovations.”