Sports a robust part of Springs’ economy

Travis Ekenburg, owner of Thin Air Frameworks, builds custom-made bike frames to match the needs of avid cyclists.

Travis Ekenburg, owner of Thin Air Frameworks, builds custom-made bike frames to match the needs of avid cyclists.

If there’s one area of Colorado Springs that has potential for growth, it’s the sports businesses that have sprung up here because of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the natural environment and a concentrated effort to grow the sector.

Everyone knows Colorado Springs is home to the USOC headquarters, the Olympic Training Center and 57 different national governing bodies.

But the city also has 156 miles of bike trails, plus thousands of nearby trails for mountain biking, rock-climbing and off-road motocross. It’s the headquarters for a company that focuses on online registration and sports event management, as well as hundreds of small businesses that provide competition-quality skatewear, outdoor wear and bike parts.

Two of the three job announcements made in the past few months have been sports companies. It’s not by accident, said David White, chief business development officer for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

“We’re working hard to recruit companies here,” White said. “I just got back from the Interbike show in Las Vegas. We have about five contacts from there. I couldn’t believe how big the market is. I went as the guest of FatBike, and next year, we’ll have a booth and make a big splash. Really, we should have been doing this for years.”

FatBike, the most recent company to announce jobs in the Springs, is the brainchild of two Colorado College graduates.

Before that, Australian company FuseSport announced it had relocated to the Springs.

“The thing I’ve noticed is that the sports economy attracts young professionals,” White said. “And we need that here.” Both the FuseSport CEO and co-owner of FatBike are still in their 20s.

“And we’ll have another announcement really soon,” White said. “Right now, there’s a company from California that makes sportswear in the city; they’re considering a move here.”

All of the activity — and potential for growth — leaves White a little breathless.

“I’m bullish about the sports economy,” he said. “I really am.”

The businesses are here more because the city has focused on the sports economy for decades.”
– Mike Moran, Sports Corp.

Estimates are that sports businesses, the governing bodies and events bring in about $400 million annually to the local economy.

But that estimate could be low, White said.

“I think it’s much, much higher,” he said. “Summit Economics is doing an in-depth study right now, because that $400 million number has been around for a while. We have such a complex sports economy here, I think people will be surprised to find how large a segment it actually is.”

Colorado Springs is unique among cities, said Colorado Springs Sports Corp. CEO Tom Osborne.

“The Olympics aside, we have other governing bodies — with no relationship to the USOC — that have chosen Colorado Springs,” he said. “When you add all the employees, all the money spent — I am sure the sports economy here equals the economic impact of a Fortune 500 company.”

Osborne estimates that a single event supported by the Sports Corp. has brought in $30 million in economic impact during a four-year period.

“It’s hard to judge overall,” he said “All these governing bodies are here, and they have board meetings and events — that means heads in beds. It’s a significant part of the local economy.”

Sports Corp. is fully behind the Business Alliance’s efforts to attract more sports companies to Colorado Springs.

“We have an unusual mix here,” said Sports Corp. spokesman Mike Moran, previously the USOC’s media chief for nearly a quarter-century. “I am not sure that the businesses are here because of the national governing bodies. But it doesn’t hurt.

“The businesses are here more because the city has focused on the sports economy for decades. And so it’s very widespread — we have cycling equipment, MAXX Sunglasses, all kinds of companies that work directly with sports organizations.

“It’s a pretty good mix already.”

What does that mix look like? Here are four companies in the region that benefit from the local emphasis on sports: Thin Air Frameworks, Billet Racing Products, Sharene Skatewear and Maxx HD Sunglasses.

Thin Air Frameworks

Travis Ekenburg created Thin Air Frameworks because he loves the art of cycling. And he located the company in Colorado Springs because he loves the city.

“I call myself a native; I moved here in fourth grade,” he said. “And I love cycling. It’s a beautiful place to ride; there are so many trails. We never really considered having it anywhere else.”

Ekenburg custom-builds bike frames to the customer’s exact specifications. He uses a carbon-steel frame and builds it according to the size of a particular customer or whether someone wants gears or a single speed. He can be reached at thinairframeworks.com

“We do more than just measure people; we find out what they are going to do with the bike,” he said. “Do they want a commuter bike? A mountain bike? Are they interested in heavy-duty riding — because then we add extra tubing. It’s all up to the customer.”

The customizing adds extra time to the work, but Ekenburg says he can build a bike in two or three weeks — depending on how particular the rider is.

“I’m serious about giving them what they want,” he said. “So it takes longer than if you just pick up the bike at the store.”

Billet Racing Products

Created in 1994 by a former aerospace engineer, Billet Racing Products focuses on manufacturing parts for motorcycles.

The company’s goal is to bring products to off-road motorcyclists that enhance the performance, form and function of the motorcycle. It does all the manufacturing locally in its Springs workshop.

“BRP is recognized as a major player in today’s off-road community,” owner Jim Rios said. “Since the beginning … we have been supporting riders with our complete line of billet parts and accessories.”

Sharene Skatewear

Colorado Springs is home to U.S. Figure Skating, which was one draw for Sharene Skatewear, which provides custom-made skating costumes and dresses for sale internationally. The other was the state’s business friendly climate.

Owned by Sharene Eble, the company moved to the Springs from San Diego. She and her husband Jeff chose the Springs after visiting during the Broadmoor Open, an annual figure skating competition held locally. The two started in a retail space on Tejon Street but are now located in a bigger building on Janitell Road.

Skating styles by Sharene are shipped to skaters in the United Kingdom, Canada and the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Finland and Iceland. And it was the first skatewear business in the nation that provided off-the-rack wear for competitions.

Maxx HD Sunglasses

Located in Monument, Maxx HD Sunglasses started in the owners’ garage about nine years ago. In 2010, sales grew by 30 percent, and last year, the company doubled its 7,500-square-foot warehouse.

Maxx buys its sunglasses from manufacturers in China and Taiwan, but recently purchased a new 3-D printer that will put them closer to manufacturing their own product. The company has more than 20 styles, and features high-definition lenses that reduce glare.

Maxx has had a Major League Baseball connection since 2011 when it started advertising at Coors Field during Colorado Rockies baseball games. The company received an MLB license to feature team logos on the glasses last year.

In 2012, the company also won the people’s choice award at the Excellence in Local Industry Award ceremony, hosted by the Business Alliance. People who attended the awards ceremony were allowed to vote via smartphone on the best company. Maxx won over RT Logic.