Who says an Economic Summit has to be boring? Presenters sprinkled their speeches with jokes and flippant comments at last week's conference.
- Speaker Daniel Levine, of the AvantGuide Institute:
"It certainly is tough out there economically. We all know that; that's really the theme of the whole conference. I've gotta say, it's even tough for me. I decided after my presentation today, I'm going to sell my DVDs at the back of the room - I still have 'Bambi,' 'Pinocchio' and 'Brokeback Mountain.'"
- Rich Hager, of Big Agnes:
"One of my favorite names is for a two-person sleeping bag called a double wide. : It's called our Dream Island."
- Laura Lamun, of Little Moon Essentials:
"I'll be quite honest: I was slightly intimidated to come on this panel. : I'm obviously the only purple-haired CEO in the room."
- Molly Cuffe, of SmartWool:
"For SmartWool, we're a very approachable brand. People feel comfortable - they write us letters about their underwear they wore for four days."
- David Monahan, of Sprig Toys:
"We ended up with this (packaging) box. We call it really green. The real reason it looks like this is, we ran out of money."
- Former Bronco Karl Mecklenburg:
Talking about his son's trip to Toys R Us: "Luke goes under the shelf and pulls out a box and says, 'Dad, this is it; this is the toy I want.' My son had selected the McDonald's drive-through guy."
Steamboat Springs This year's Economic Summit was all about optimism. Speakers focused on it, sessions revolved around it and participants exuded it.
To bolster the positive thinking, organizers drew together representatives of local businesses and industries that have grown or could grow. SCORE volunteers advised people interested in starting businesses amid the current turbulence. At an afternoon session Thursday, representatives of several local businesses spoke about their success.
Noreen Moore, business resource director for the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative, introduced speakers from ACZ Laboratories, SmartWool, Big Agnes, Moots, Little Moon Essentials, the Creek Co. and Wing-Time.
"This panel kind of represents the economic diversity in the community," Moore said.
She asked the businesses to provide their job and payroll numbers. The seven companies account for 176 local jobs and a payroll of $9.5 million.
"When you put these companies together, they would rank about the fifth-largest employer (in Routt County) both in jobs and in wages," Moore said.
The business representatives were forthcoming with their trials and tribulations, and many offered reasons for optimism. Big Agnes makes sleeping bags, pads and tents. The company has had a 62 percent average growth rate each year for the past seven, Rich Hager said.
The businesses all care for and are invested in the community, owners said. Most of them donate items to and serve as sponsors for fundraisers and events across town. They help in other ways, too.
"In 2008, we spent over $40,000 with local businesses to entertain and accommodate guests brought to Steamboat Springs," Hager said.
Laura Lamun, founder of Little Moon Essentials, offered an unconventional business approach. The idea for her natural body-care products arrived while she slept.
"I woke up from a dream and put together a bath salt I had dreamed about," Lamun said. "I saw everything in this dream. I saw the bath salt; I saw the name."
She started selling the product at a Boulder store and built her business from there.
"It took me 10 years to make my first million dollars," Lamun said. "It took me 14 months to make my second million."
She sees the economy's recession as an economic "remodel."
"We're tearing everything down and doing an extreme home remodel. : I'm going to do that in an unconventional and humorous way."
Chris Timmerman runs the Creek Co., which sells fly fishing accessories and other river-related items. Like Lamun, he keeps his operation going with a small staff and a lot of flexibility.
There are "four guys, and we crank out a lot of business, and so even in tough times like this, there's room to suck it up and everything's still good for us," Timmerman said.
The audience questioned the business owners about their methods and sought advice. One participant asked about financing.
Wing-Time owner Terry Brown said seeking financing was a personal experience.
"I wasn't trying to get them to invest in my business," Brown said. "I'm trying to get them to invest in me."
Timmerman did a small stock offering to start his business. Lamun uses a partnership with a catalogue and builds through sales.
Another audience member asked the panelists whether they feel responsible for marketing Steamboat Springs. Many are location-neutral companies.
Moots uses a "hand-built in the Rockies" tag line on the bicycles it makes and sells, Rob Mitchell said. SmartWool identifies closely with Steamboat, spokeswoman Molly Cuffe said.
"Steamboat is absolutely the face of our brand," she said. "Our heritage is here."
The businesspeople also stressed how important local involvement is to them. ACZ paid for the new bronze sculpture on the courthouse lawn, Tim VanWyngarden said.
"We don't have cool schwag like a lot of you guys do," he told the other panelists.
The companies all donate to organizations and fundraisers across Routt County, Moore said. SmartWool provides its employees 40 paid volunteer hours a year, Cuffe said. The company also shuts down for two days a year to do projects in the community.
"Money is one thing, but when you invest your sweat and energy into your community, that's when you're really dedicated," she said.
The summit, "Thriving in Tough Economic Times," was Wednesday and Thursday at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.