Merchants' deadline nears

Chamber seeks broad participation in Fly Steamboat

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Employers in Steamboat Springs have a week to decide whether to take advantage of the perks that go along with monetary contributions to the Fly Steamboat program. Not the least of the benefits is the ability to put down a $100 deposit to lock in early season ski-pass rates for their winter employees.

"Fly Steamboat" is the slogan for a campaign to increase the number of businesses that contribute part of the revenue guarantees necessary to attract airlines to Yampa Valley Regional Airport in ski season. This is the second year that accessing the best merchant pass terms has been tied to participation in Fly Steamboat.

The resort will see direct jet flights from a half-dozen major cities beyond Denver this winter. Revenue guarantees total $1.8 million this year, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Vice President Andy Wirth said. That's down 23 percent from last year, despite a 6 percent increase in inbound seats. Accordingly, the total contributions being sought by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association this year are down to $700,000 from $850,000 last year. The Ski Corp. will provide the remaining $1.1 million.

Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association Executive Vice President Sandy Evans-Hall said $206,000 in pledges have come in.

"I've been tracking the (individual) pledges and they have been equal to or greater than last year," Evans-Hall said. That trend tells her businesses understand and value the Fly Steamboat program, she added.

"It's pretty remarkable the business community is able to do this," she said.

Evans-Hall said this year's goal reflected the hope that the city of Steamboat Springs will contribute $100,000 to the revenue guarantees, as it has for several years. That would lower the overall share for businesses to $600,000.

Fly Steamboat still has pledges to collect from last season. Of $828,000 pledged, $667,000, or 77 percent, has been collected. Evans-Hall said she remained confident that number would continue to grow to the 90 percent level, even as her office is trying to build momentum for this winter's pledges. Her optimism is based in part on the expectation that lodging companies, which are asked to make greater contributions than other types of businesses, typically make a large payment at the end of the summer resort season.

This year, most businesses are being asked to contribute a minimum of 0.25 percent of their sales. For a small business with $200,000 in sales, that would represent a contribution to Fly Steamboat of $500. For a business grossing $1.2 million, that would represent a contribution of $300,000.

Lodging companies are being asked to contribute 1 percent of gross sales.

Chamber President Ulrich Salzgeber said he realized each business owner operates on a different margin than the next and has varying numbers of employees. However, he said the quarter-percent model was adopted this year as an effective way to communicate minimum participation levels.

"We wanted everyone to feel that's an equitable amount for their business," Salzgeber said.

Salzgeber said his board hoped a broad range of businesses will recognize the contribution the ski-season jet flights make to Northwest Colorado's overall economy. He said the program needed the participation of businesses that benefit indirectly from ski season jet flights.

For example, Salzgeber said, winter tourism creates seasonal jobs for the construction work force that are vital to contractors in summer. And vacation homes that turn over in the market benefit the real estate industry, as well as builders who subsequently land contracts for remodeling jobs.

"I would hope that any contractor, any realtor in this town, whether they benefit directly or indirectly, realizes the importance of an overall strong economy. We hope they make that connection," Salzgeber said.

The deadline faced by employers this week is the Aug. 18 cutoff to hold the early season pass rates for their winter employees.

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