Location, location, location

Economic Summit explores businesses that aren't tied down

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Scott Ford and Noreen Moore of the Business Resource Center at Colorado Mountain College have been playing detectives.

The two, who spoke Thursday during the 2005 Economic Summit at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel and Conference Center, are trying to understand the seeming enigma of location-neutral businesses.

Using U.S. Census figures, the two discovered that, in 2000, more than 600 people worked in Routt County but received paychecks from other places.

They also noticed a growing segment of entrepreneurs or "lone eagles" who -- thanks to regional improvements in wireless technology -- operate businesses not dependent on location.

The information raised questions: In what types of industries are these businesses based, how do they contribute to the local economy and -- perhaps most importantly -- why are they here?

Doing their best to pinpoint location-neutral businesses, Ford and Moore conducted a survey trying to answer those questions. They sent surveys to 650 businesses, and about 27 percent responded.

With only a few "fish caught in the net," Ford and Moore emphasized they are just beginning to understand the nature of these businesses.

Among the important indicators that came out of the survey was how "sense of community" is an economic asset.

In the survey, a majority of respondents said they operate their businesses in Routt County for personal reasons as opposed to businesses reasons, and 80 percent said they were very likely to stay.

To Moore and Ford, that translates into satisfaction with the quality of life and community in Routt County -- assets that, unlike other economic resources, may be influenced.

"There is a potential that if we lose that authentic sense of community, we may lose the assets that bring people to us," Moore said.

The survey indicates location-neutral businesses make significant contributions to the local economy.

About 75 percent of survey respondents said they were involved in some sort of retail, consumer, professional or social services, and 88 percent said they were based in Routt County.

Every businesses that res--ponded to the income question -- about 84 percent -- reported at least $75,000 in total household income per year, and one-third of the businesses reported more than $150,000.

Most said they derive more than 50 percent of that income from their location-neutral business. Most also purchase banking, insurance and legal services in Routt County.

Moore emphasized that, like second-home owners, location-neutral business owners and employees contribute to the economy by increasing demand for secondary services and jobs.

The survey also questioned what businesspeople liked and didn't like about operating in Routt County.

Many reported they were happy with broadband, banking and overnight delivery services -- those services most important to their businesses. Others said that broadband services needed improvement and that they were not satisfied with the work force in Routt County.

Although location-neutral businesses don't tend to hire many employees, audience member Lyman Orton emphasized that it still is an important indicator to consider.

"I think there is a huge future there," he said. "These are good paying jobs."

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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