Granite Outdoor Alliance Director Tyler Ray

GRANITEER festival aims to bring together outdoor recreationists, employers and brands for a weekend of fun and education
Tyler Ray Granite Outdoor Alliance

Tyler Ray, director of the Granite Outdoor Alliance

New Hampshire’s outdoor industry accounts for 3.2 percent of the state’s overall economy — the nine highest in the U.S. Such statistics only scrape the surface when it comes to how much our state relies on our outdoor recreation for economic prosperity.

The Granite Outdoor Alliance (GOA), officially formed in 2020, ramped up its efforts during the Covid years, as people around New England flocked to the outdoors to connect with nature and one another — albeit six feet away.

The alliance’s mission, according to its website, is to “advance the outdoor industry forward toward a sustainable and responsible future by focusing on land conservation, economic development, education, and health and wellness.”

As GOA’s director, Tyler Ray focused his efforts on creating an epicenter of sorts for outdoor lifestyle brands and businesses to help spur the state’s economy. The result: the GRANITEER festival, being held this year Sept. 29 and 30 in Franconia, that brings together outdoor enthusiasts, employers and others for outdoor recreation education and fun-filled activities.

Q. What is the Granite Outdoor Alliance?

A. Granite Outdoor Alliance is an outdoor industry association/chamber of commerce for outdoor companies, specifically in New Hampshire. We officially formed in 2020, but, of course, the pandemic really put the outdoors into the national mainstream conversation.

A big part of what Grant Outdoor is, is to fill a gap in the industry. The focus here is on the private sector, both companies as well as nonprofits in the industry. It’s got its tentacles in a lot of other economic segments, so it’s really cross-sector.

We focus on marketing, networking, events, workforce and advocacy. We encourage clean living, sustainable living, sustainable policy.

We live in New Hampshire, the White Mountains, the Seacoast, everything in between. And if we’re not encouraging clean living, sustainable policy, what are we even doing?

We’ve had such a quick uptake from our members. Everyone’s been ready to jump in, and we look forward to bringing more into the fold, because it’s an exciting time for our industry. As we grow, and it will, because (the outdoors are) already such a huge part of New Hampshire’s identity, it continues to be an emerging segment of the industry at large.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen was critical, in 2017, getting the federal regulators to measure and value what this industry even is. And prior to that, it’s very much an outdoor activity. It’s something that you do, and that’s how people perceive the outdoors. And that’s the major obstacle that we’re up against.

There’s considerable economic value, whether, you know, there’s companies like Nemo Equipment in Dover — they’re making tents, chairs and all sorts of other accessories. How many of those chairs and accessories are going to be sold either in New Hampshire or otherwise?

Our goal of connecting the outdoors to business is something that really hasn’t been truly done in New Hampshire. And there’s a little bit of a difficulty getting over that fence and to find that tipping point. But we’re getting closer, and we have a new state director, Janelle Lawton. So, things are happening.Graniteer Festival

Q. Tell us about the upcoming GRANITEER Festival.

A. We need something that harnesses the momentum that we’re feeling on a daily basis and spread it to others and let people know by driving awareness and visibility through these events. The things I mentioned earlier about sustainability and clean living, they reflect on the supply side of workforce and volunteerism, things that really sustain the state that just don’t get proper notice.

So, GRANITEER is an opportunity to convene not just the brands and the B2B, but also the consumer side. So it’s our play on how to do a bit of both in one event.

The outdoor industry is unique because the folks that are in the industry, the brands as individuals, they’re also the consumers. So there’s a little bit of a merge happening, and that’s why we’ve taken a different approach to blur the lines, because you play both sides of the fence.

We did a workforce assessment survey last year. We published it and we really found that outdoor companies in New Hampshire have a very difficult time finding qualified applicants with the hard skills and the soft skills necessary to meet the qualifications of those aspiring brands. Meanwhile, they’re hustling. Owners and smaller companies are being challenged with finding those higher qualified applicants.

So, how do we come up with a compelling way to do our own take on a job fair type of event? Part of that was, well, let’s put a beer in someone’s hand, right? Let’s let people loosen up here, so they see that there’s this whole side of the outdoor industry that is work related, not just for play. Everyone knows how to climb to the top of the mountain. When you get a map, how do you get a career in the outdoor industry? That’s how GRANITEER came about.

We’re telling the nonprofits, ‘Hey, you want to get some more volunteers because you need them? Come here and get your volunteers to sign up.’ To the brands: ‘You looking for more higher qualified applicants? Snag them at your tent.’ Get in the conversation.

There’s going to be a benefit to the brands and there’s a benefit to the consumer, because a lot of folks come around from Boston. We’re targeting New York City’s seacoast — your typical tourist. We want to pull these people here and then have an array of things like outdoor experiences, climbing walls, group bike rides, all that sort of stuff, demos, all this great stuff.

There’s such an opportunity and a hunger for it, but it’s reflective of the industry at large. And even greater than that, it’s reflective of a way of life. And that in and of itself is what we are pushing, because people need to realize that’s how they live their life. The outdoor economy is made up of economic activity around outdoor pursuits and two thirds of the state are active and outdoors and are participating based on recent data. And that says something. So let’s harness that.

What’s more, from an economic development policy perspective, what’s more powerful than an organic way of doing it? This is what people do on a daily basis. So let’s empower that and capitalize on it. It’s pretty exciting, actually. It’s what I call being hidden in plain sight.

And it’s for locals and those from away. It’s a balanced approach. GRANITEER reflects that.

(The event is) in Franconia, classic iconic mountain town, big space to open up. We have a big draw with a large musical stage. Joe Samba, New Hampshire native, supported by Coyote Island are playing. These concerts really help bring people here. We’ll have a whole number of outdoor activities. We’re developing what I would consider a marketplace with all of our brands and other non-brands. We’re inclusive; we’re bringing everyone in, and people can bring their gear to be repaired, or sell secondhand apparel. It’s an exciting event — the first of its kind.

Q. What types of job opportunities are there that the outdoor industry could provide?

A. We’ve worked with a number of high schools that have CTE programs. We’re integrating and helping support that by connecting to the industry, but integrating outdoor recreation programs where they have a bike mechanic and other types of motorized and non-motorized pipelines.

Ski resorts, for example, (employ) mechanics, lift operators, but those jobs are aging out just like we see with plumbers and electricians. We also have new segments like trail building. Mountain-biking trails and other multi-purpose trails are huge. There’s a number of those outfitters up here. Did you like building jumps as a kid or teenager? Guess what? You can do that as a career, and a viable career at that, because there’s demand for it — particularly as we encourage EVs, snowmobiles and ATVs. Those all go electric. Who’s on the supply end of all of that?

We’re just trying to raise that profile, because a lot of folks take it for granted. They don’t see it. When you go to a ski resort, you’re skiing. You don’t really see all the behind the scenes.

The other important thing is this fundamental need to see people in person. We got so used to this Zoom town effect, but at some point, there’s this connectivity. You see that with lots of mentors in the outdoor space, or people just going at it on their own, because they think they figured life out on the internet and, next thing you know, they’re stuck on a cliff calling for rescue. There’s a need to have those connections and those relationships, whether it’s networking for business or networking for friendship, that’s what creates vibrant communities.

As we develop additional events and this event grows, we’ll be all over the state doing various very similar type events. But the point is all the same, no matter where you are, is you got to know people around you and respect the culture.

Graniteer Festival Yeti

Q. Because of climate change, places like ski resorts have had to adapt to year-round activities due to shorter or less snowy winters. What’s your view on that?

A. There’s no doubt that climate change is here and it’s impacting our industries. All due respect, but time is up. There needs to be turnover (with policymakers). That’s how the world works. And until that happens, we’re going to struggle with these things.

Ski resorts are turning to mountain biking and adventure parks because they have short seasons and that impacts industry. And New Hampshire has done a terrible job in its policy-making process. It is widely known as the black hole of New England due to its environmental regulatory policies or lack thereof. And that’s a problem.

For example, the White Mountains — one of the most highly visited national forests in the United States — you can’t find an EV charger anywhere. Meanwhile, you have Massachusetts, which is a huge draw for the state. They are so far ahead of us — everyone has EVs and many want to visit the White Mountains. And guess what? They can’t come, because they don’t have the ability to charge their vehicle. And you know what that means? It means there’s a displacement cost: they’re going somewhere else. And that ‘somewhere else’ is most likely our neighbors of Vermont and Maine.

Hopefully, there’s a turn of events here, as we go through the next few elections and we really get some folks that get into this bipartisan-type of behavior. Outdoor recreation is not for one side or the other — it’s for everyone. It should be the most inclusive thing possible. That’s what I think binds everything.

It’s taking a walk, looking at the birds, running down a mountain, whatever. It doesn’t even matter. It’s everybody. So, if we can integrate that into economic policy, that makes a lot of sense.

We hear about deferred maintenance on trails. How much do we have to hear about deferred maintenance? Can’t we do something about this? Even from a state level, it’s investing in our trails, just like we invest in our roads and bridges — they’re critical to people’s everyday livelihood to get to work.

The outdoors is the same way for many: getting outside once a day, whatever it is, is healthy. And instead of going to the doctor and getting that prescription for a bottle of pills and instead getting a prescription for a two-mile walk every day, that’s the goal. Let’s do this ourselves; we’re self-sufficient here.

What we’re seeing in the economic space for the outdoors is a ton of positives, and it’d be hard to ignore that, because it’s in the press quite a bit.

There’s a lot of growing to do, whether it’s from the low-hanging fruit of stewardship to understanding how to build our workforce and to support our nonprofits. Because there’s such a big part of the outdoor scene here, that’s really what’s created that way of life. That’s why people are coming here. And we have the No. 2 aging problem in the United States, not far behind Maine. And you know what attracts young people? The outdoors with families. New Hampshire has it, but I’m not sure we’re doing it well. I am sure that we’re not doing the best job that we could possibly do in promoting it. And that goes back to the policy talk and other things. But there is a scene here and we can really, really capture that and harness it. We just gotta get our team together and do it and say that collectively.

GRANITEER is just the tip of the iceberg for what we have in store.

This interview was initially featured in an episode of NHBR’s Down to Business podcast, available at

Categories: Energy and Environment, Nonprofits, Q&A, Restaurants, Retail & Tourism