Karl Mecklenburg, who played 12 years for the Denver Broncos, speaks Thursday at the conclusion of the three-day 2009 Economic Summit at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Karl Mecklenburg, who played 12 years for the Denver Broncos, speaks Thursday at the conclusion of the three-day 2009 Economic Summit at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.

Locals learn to thrive

Former Bronco, toy maker encourage pursuit of passions

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— Gary Kubiak made Ruth Dombrowski's day at the 2009 Economic Summit.

Kubiak, coach of the Houston Texans football team, was the answer to a trivia question asked by former Denver Bronco Karl Mecklenburg. Dombrowski burst out Kubiak's name after several audience members offered incorrect responses to Mecklenburg's question: Who was the quarterback the Broncos drafted in 1983, the year they drafted Mecklenburg?

Dombrowski is an avid Broncos fan, and her answer earned her an autographed Mecklenburg jersey.

"I went to every home game for 15 years," she said, grinning widely.

Mecklenburg's speech closed out the 14th annual Economic Summit. The Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council, a subcommittee of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, put on the event. This year's summit was called "Thriving in Tough Economic Times." About 195 people attended, organizer Grant Fenton said.

Mecklenburg, who played defense for the Broncos for 12 years, received a standing ovation after offering his "Six Keys to Success" - as well as plenty of tales from the gridiron.

He told just one story about quarterback John Elway. They sat side by side during a flight back from San Francisco, where Mecklenburg had just played his last away game before retirement.

Elway had an ice pack on his back and one on his knee.

"He knew I was retiring," Mecklenburg said. "He turned to me and said, 'Karl, I'm jealous,' then he followed that up in not five seconds by saying 'I can't quit. I've gotta win a Super Bowl.'"

Elway was a true leader for whom the team was the most important thing, Mecklenburg said. Mecklenburg had lost three Super Bowls alongside Elway. But three seasons later, the Broncos won the Super Bowl. The next year, they won again.

"It happened because John had that passion," Mecklenburg said.

The athlete explained to the audience that they must dream big and follow their passions to succeed. Hard work is important, but having passion is crucial, Mecklenburg said. His six keys to success are teamwork, courage, dedication, desire, goal setting, and honesty and forgiveness. Mecklenburg encouraged people to take risks despite the recession.

"The natural tendency of the human being in those circumstances is to hunker down," he said. "Have the courage to try something new. Have the courage to separate yourself from those who are hunkering down, because there is opportunity out there."

Mecklenburg was the third of the day's general session speakers. Daniel Levine offered his insights in the morning, and David Monahan, a co-founder of Sprig Toys, spoke during lunch.

Monahan sprinkled his speech with advice, cautionary tales and dry humor that had the audience laughing with surprise. Sprig makes toys that are battery-free, environmentally friendly and powered by the children who use them. The company manufactures all its toys in North America. It hit $2 million in sales last year and expects to hit $6 million this year, Monahan said.

Monahan originally wasn't supposed to talk. The scheduled speaker, Craig Storey, couldn't make it to the summit.

"Craig and I always argue about who's more boring," Monahan said. "He's an accountant, and I have a Ph.D. in engineering, so you know."

Sprig's challenges have included a supplier that went out of business and retailers cutting back on inventory. But the company, whose founders care about their mission, persevered, Monahan said.

"If we didn't have so much passion for the business, we'd have gone out of business a long time ago with the problems we've run into : but we keep pushing our way through it," he said.

A color goof presented one challenge for the startup. An engineer put the wrong coloring code on a toy, Monahan said.

"All of a sudden, we have several hundred purple dolphins instead of the blue they were supposed to be," he said. "That's yet another one of those things we always have to watch for."

Twice during the speech, Monahan handed out toys (some assembly required) to people in the audience.

"I see someone yawning," he said. "You get a toy, and you get to put it together."

He also did some busting of chops.

"You're going to yawn so you can get a toy?" he asked a man who yawned soon after the first culprit.

The man got a toy, of course.

Monahan offered suggestions to people trying to get a business off the ground. The company started in 2007. He encouraged business owners to monitor their cash flow daily, manage inventory and sell aggressively.

Mecklenburg was talking about precisely that kind of effort. The day's closer encouraged people to remember that their work now prepared them to follow dreams later.

"Maybe you're not in a situation where you can pursue that desire or passion right now," Mecklenburg said. "If you're in that situation, it doesn't matter. Work hard where you're at."

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