Business leaders: Now is the time to fight for customers

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— Steamboat Springs' business outlook could be summed up with a word: competitive. Real estate agents and home sellers are competing to move properties. Construction companies are competing for projects. Tourism-related businesses are competing for visitors.

Representatives across those industries spoke about the forecast Wednesday at a Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association breakfast at Rex's American Grill & Bar.

The panel consisted of David Baldinger Jr., of Steamboat Village Brokers; Mark Halvorson, of Snow Country Construction; Larry Mashaw, of Resort Group; Rob Perlman, of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.; and Dean Vogelaar, of Mountain Valley Bank.

Steamboat is in decent shape for real estate, Baldinger said. Prices haven't fallen off dramatically, he said, predicting a solid 2008 in dollar amount of real estate deals.

"I think if we would have done over a billion this year in a hot market, that would have been good," Baldinger said. "I think we're going to end up with $700 million. : That's probably going to be the second- or third-highest amount of trading in history in Routt County."

People who have to sell homes are the ones who must compete, he said. Baldinger said those sellers should try to be creative in attracting customers, promoting what's special about the property.

Competition also is heated for the people building those homes. Much of Halvorson's news from the construction sector was grim. Attorneys, architects, excavators, general contractors and subcontractors are seeing business plummet, he said.

"Homebuilders typically have a two-year, three-year backlog," Halvorson said. "Some of them, the house they have going today, when it's finished, they have nothing. And then there's a number of them that have laid off their entire staff."

He said he was particularly worried about excavation companies.

"I talked to three in town," Halvorson said. "One had 80 employees last year, and he's down to 30, and the outlook for work is all three of them have zero work booked for '09. They all think that some of that is going to come around, but they have none. : That's scary, because if they have no work, none of us have work."

Persistence is crucial

Construction and subcontractor prices probably will come down because of the competition, Halvorson said.

In the hospitality sector, lodging properties and Ski Corp. are ratcheting up their efforts to pull in customers. Those would-be visitors are heavily sought after as the U.S. struggles with recession - and they know it, Mashaw said.

"What we're focusing on is having some good deals for people," he said. "They kind of know it's a buyer's market, so they're definitely challenging the reservationists."

Persistence is crucial, he said. Resort Group is focusing on deadlines for booking and calling potential visitors two or three times to urge them to commit to a vacation.

Perlman, Ski Corp.'s vice president of sales and marketing, said the Steamboat Ski Area was employing similar strategies and deadlines. The company started by focusing on returning skiers.

"Shortly after that deadline, the phones and Web traffic sort of went to a grinding halt," he said. "Things were very slow in November."

But Ski Corp. has worked with the airlines that fly to Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden to decrease fares and attract visitors.

"Lo and behold, the phone did start ringing, and that was a combination of things," Perlman said. "One thing is, other ski areas in Colorado started opening up, we started to get some snow. : Our focus was to get the Ski Area open on time. We thought the worst thing that could happen was to delay our opening like we did last year."

Ski Corp. has continued to unveil promotions. Some focus on people within driving distance; others are aimed at destination tourists. The company plans to push through the holidays and start more specials early next year, Perlman said.

The discussion Wednesday ended with optimistic words from Sandy Evans Hall, Chamber executive vice president. She urged the audience to stay positive.

"Have a happy holiday," Evans Hall said. "Really get out there and enjoy where you live. The world is not coming to an end."

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