Ben Popp is Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) and co-founded the SISU Nordic Ski Foundation in 2008.
About the American Bierkebeiner Ski Foundation
The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to hosting one of the world’s premier cross-country skiing events, American Birkebeiner, as reflected in the Birkie Mission Statement, making it one of the premier recreational activities in the world Nation maintains trails and promoting healthy lifestyles for people of all ages. The American Birkebeiner consists of several events in addition to the 51-kilometer and 55-kilometer Birkie marathon races and the 24-kilometer Kortelopet race (the second largest ski race in North America).
A native of Phillips, Wisconsin, Popp has served as Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) since 2013. Prior to his tenure at Birke, Popp relocated to Minnesota to attend St. Thomas University. After his Master of Arts in 2003, Popp co-founded the SISU Nordic Ski Foundation in 2008. He now resides in Hayward, Wisconsin with his wife Megan and their twins Grant and Luke.
TALK BRIEFLY ABOUT YOUR WISCONSIN TRIP. HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED HERE AND WHAT DRAWN YOU WITHDRAWAL AFTER LIVING IN MINNESOTA? HOW DID YOU GET TO WORK AT ABSF?
Growing up in northern Wisconsin, being outdoors was always part of my upbringing. Skiing, biking and endless picnics with friends and family have always been a central part of life. After graduating from Phillips HS I attended St Olaf College in Northfield. After graduating, I began working at Carleton College in Northfield, MN and then at St. Mary’s in Winona. I completed my Masters in Education at St. Thomas University and after a short teaching stint, I immersed myself in the world of community service in St. Paul. As our children grew, we decided there was no better place to raise children than northern Wisconsin – so I began looking for opportunities to move back to the Northwoods. In the summer of 2013 I had the opportunity to work for the American Berkiebeiner Ski Foundation ABSF and the rest is history. Not only am I passionate about creating ways for people to have amazing outdoor experiences, but also making sure the business of silent sports recreation continues to evolve and remain sustainable. The ABSF has proven to be the perfect medium to work on both of my passions.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF BEING A WISCONSIN RESIDENTS?
I love that we have a state where I can pursue my professional career and live a lifestyle with endless outdoor opportunities.
WHAT HAS KEEPED YOU AND YOUR FAMILY IN WISCONSIN STATE?
First and foremost the state’s education system and it’s such an amazing place to raise kids. The fact that we live in a place with great communities and great outdoor activities accessible to so many, along with great job opportunities makes it a no-brainer. Additionally, the fact that we can live in a rural community that offers the tools for career development while still having easy access to urban areas makes it an easy choice.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE BERKIE TO THE ECONOMY IN NORTHERN WISCONSIN?
Outdoor recreation is the backbone of Northern Wisconsin’s economy – and the Birkie leads the way, with an annual economic impact of over $20 million. The events in the area not only put dollars into our local economy, but introduce people to our amazing area and create lifelong visitors. Our data shows that over 80% of people who come to our events will attend them again.
TALK ABOUT YOUR PAST EXPERIENCE WITH WEDC.
When we wanted to develop an unused location in northern Wisconsin, we turned to as a resource. Their experience and support enabled us to deliver a powerful project that has transformed a disused site into a place that is now leading economic development in our small community.
WHAT EXCITES YOU MOST ABOUT THE FUTURE BUSINESS CLIMATE IN WISCONSIN?
Opportunities coupled with our natural resources make it the ideal place to attract the best possible workforce. You are our greatest asset and I believe this will help us offer the best products and services and create an even more attractive place – it’s really an exciting time.
WHAT IMPROVEMENT IN WISCONSIN BUSINESS CLIMATE DO YOU HOPE TO SEE IN THE FUTURE?
I think we need to invest more in what attracts people here – outdoor recreation. Like any good company that invests in its business, we must do the same to stay ahead of the competition.