Ogden Wins Gold in Race to the Top
The small Utah town capitalized on the 2002 Olympics to establish itself as a hotspot for outdoor industry business.
When Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Games, Ogden—which lies at the western edge of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, about 40 minutes from Salt Lake City—hosted several events, most notably the alpine ski events held at Snowbasin. Ogden had enjoyed considerable success during the railroad era but fell into decline after automobile and air travel became the preferred transportation modes. Thanks to the exposure that came with the Games, Ogden was internationally recognized for its natural beauty and proximity to recreation opportunities. City planners heard a call-to-action. Current mayor and former Salt Lake Olympic Committee member Mike Caldwell is credited with refocusing Ogden’s economy toward outdoor recreation.
What they wanted: Human-powered play has always thrived in Ogden; the new mission was to reinvent the city as a center for outdoor recreation business and to draw the outdoor industry to the city. Ogden has a similar recreation set to Salt Lake City—snow sports, watersports and cycling—but in a smaller-city setting with an historic downtown.
How they got it: After the Olympics, Caldwell went on to become Weber County’s public information officer, where he worked to develop key business partnerships in the ski industry. Caldwell and city leadership helped lure Amer Sports (notable brands: Salomon, Atomic, Arc’Teryx) to Ogden. The company set up shop in the renovated American Can Company building downtown. Ogden’s leadership continued to target and court other ski manufacturers, who—enticed by the city’s proximity to premiere product-testing locations—followed Amer’s lead. The Ogden leadership further defined its recruitment process when it approached the bike industry. Quality Bicycle Products was the first company to move, thanks in large part to the efforts of Steve Fishburn, the city’s business recruitment relations manager. Ogden sold itself as an affordable, centrally located location for companies to develop partner synergies and economy of scale. A Spandex-attired Caldwell led Taiwanese bike industry business leaders on the Scenic Tour of Utah to introduce them to the area’s spectacular scenery. Several companies responded by opening U.S. offices in Ogden.
What’s next: Ogden recently broke ground on the Ogden Business Exchange, a 51-acre outdoor-focused business park on the grounds of the former Ogden Union Stockyards. The former administrative center, the Exchange Building, replete with bas-relief animal busts and Art Deco flourishes, will remain. Ogden’s own high-end bicycle wheel manufacturer, ENVE Composites, is to be OBE’s anchor tenant. OBE workers will enjoy unparalleled access to Ogden’s growing bike trail system and the Weber River, adjacent to the business park.
Key takeaways: By tightly focusing on the needs of outdoor rec companies (cost of real estate, logistical convenience and product-testing opportunities) and improving existing infrastructure (some as a result of the Olympics and some through traditional development channels), Ogden has made a very successful transition from its former glory as a railroad town to the country’s leading up-and-coming business hub for outdoor companies.