U.S. manufacturing may be far from thriving, but don’t tell that to the dozens of outdoor-oriented companies cranking out great products domestically.
Now in its second year, more than 85 companies entered the American Made Outdoor Gear Awards, a contest that judges quality, craftsmanship and creativity in the outdoor world. It is put on by paddling-gear company Kokatat.
The cream of the 2014 crop was Benchmade Knife Company, makers of high-end outdoor tools in Oregon.
“Benchmade was a clear standout among the fantastic applications we received this year,” said Jeff Turner of Kokatat, the founder and host of the American Made Outdoor Gear Award. “Benchmade has built its brand and reputation from the ground up on its domestic manufacturing.”
Benchmade has produced knives and tools in its Oregon City, Ore., facility since 1988. Domestic manufacturing is a cornerstone of the brand’s DNA and a point of differentiation in a market dominated by imported products.
“It’s the story of a U.S. manufacturer redefining and reinventing a category that was created, well, about 10,000 years ago,” said David Fee, an executive at Benchmade. “As a domestic manufacturer, we choose not to compete on price. Instead, we focus on superior quality, materials, service and customization.”
Several other companies were recognized as category winners:
Under 10 Employees: Winner — Lincoln Canoe & Kayak of Freeport, Maine, is a manufacturer of canoes and kayaks. Runner up — Voormi of Pagosa Springs, CO, producer of technical wool garments.
10 to 50 Employees: Winner — RAMP Sports of Park City, Utah, a ski and snowboard manufacturer. Runner up — Dahlgren Footwear of West Linn, Ore., makers of performance socks.
50-100 Employees: Winner — Sterling Rope Company of Biddeford, Maine, a safety rope, cord, and hardware manufacturer. Runner up — Diamond Brand, of Fletcher, N.C., manufacturer of shelters, covers, and bags.
100+ Employees Winner: Polartec of Lawrence, Mass., producer of performance textiles. Runner up — C. C. Filson Co. of Seattle, Wash., makers of rugged luggage, apparel, footwear, accessories and headwear.
An interesting side note of the award is data harvested from the entrants regarding U.S. manufacturing and sourcing. A sample of statistics from entries include:
— 42% of applicants were founded in the last 10 years;
— 76% of applicants created new manufacturing jobs in the last year, totaling over 500 new jobs;
— More than 50% of the applicants reported that 90% or more of the goods they sell are made in the U.S.
The data also revealed geographical insights. More than half the applicants hailed from six states: California, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington. While traditional manufacturing states such as Maine, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania were well represented, a pocket of manufacturing is growing in the Rocky Mountains with Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming accounting for 25% of applicants.
— Sean McCoy