LDM Global marketing and customer service manager Sarah Nunham, front, and accountant Amy Maxwell work out of a condo Wednesday near Mount Werner. LDM Global CEO Chris O’Reilly said he plans to expand his location-neutral business by doubling the staff and establishing a permanent headquarters in Steamboat.

Photo by Scott Franz

LDM Global marketing and customer service manager Sarah Nunham, front, and accountant Amy Maxwell work out of a condo Wednesday near Mount Werner. LDM Global CEO Chris O’Reilly said he plans to expand his location-neutral business by doubling the staff and establishing a permanent headquarters in Steamboat.

Location-neutral businesses grow in Steamboat


— From her computer in Steamboat Springs, Sarah Nunham can work in four time zones spanning multiple continents on any given day.

“No two days are alike,” said Nunham, a marketing and customer service manager for LDM Global. “We have sales calls with our staff all around the world. Everything we do is online.”

Last month, Nunham moved to Steamboat from Tucson, Ariz., to take the job she said doesn’t exist in many small mountain towns far from metropolitan areas. While her work isn’t consumed by Routt County residents, she still considers herself a budding member of this community.

Her new employer specializes in data processing and computer forensics (think being hired by a law firm to organize massive amounts of data files and secure evidence of a company facing serious litigation). LDM Global has offices in London, New York, Paris, Sydney, Brussels and Reston, Va.

But soon, LDM Global CEO Chris O’Reilly plans to establish his company’s permanent headquarters in Steamboat.

“No one should have to work in a dirty, smelly city anymore,” O’Reilly said Wednesday as he described how he used to travel to London several times per year to run the company.

In 2009, he moved to the Yampa Valley with his wife, Stephanie, to raise their three daughters.

This year, the CEO discovered he could safely turn his former ski retreat and playground into his permanent workplace.

In March, he started replacing a handful of key positions in London with employees here in the Yampa Valley. His first four full-time employees and two part-timers work out of a condo near Mount Werner, but O’Reilly said he plans to move them into a permanent commercial space within the next year. He also plans to double the size of his staff. On Monday, a Colorado Mountain College business student will start an internship at his company.

“There’s no reason I can’t have my data center right here in Steamboat and hire really intelligent people,” he said. “I think this expansion is going to bring job growth and tax revenue to the city and the county.”

LDM Global’s growth in Steamboat comes at a time when other location-neutral business owners are banding together to increase their visibility as well as their influence.

A ‘sleeping giant’

Scott Bideau, a member of Steamboat’s location-neutral workforce, will address the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday and ask them to help foster his growing sector of the economy. He said the presentation will mostly be informal.

“We’re just hoping to fill the room and say, ‘Hey, this is a fairly large sector in the region, and these are people who send their kids to the schools,’” Bideau said.

Many local entrepreneurs are part of a group called Ignite Steamboat, which aims to foster and connect location-neutral businesses.

But Bideau said the City Council and other officials still can help foster the lucrative location-neutral sector by pushing for more direct flights to new destinations and by strengthening broadband access.

Some of that already is starting to happen.

Last month, O’Reilly and other location-neutral business owners cheered the arrival of new direct ski season flights from Yampa Valley Regional Airport to Los Angeles International Airport. They hope the trend continues.

“We’ve got this sleeping giant in town, and if you don’t foster something, chances are it might leave,” Bideau said. “I’d like to see it fostered to expand opportunities in town.”

Local economic analyst Scott Ford said Steamboat can continue to attract location-neutral workers by maintaining its reputation as a great place to live.

He added that Yampa Valley Medical Center’s recent Consumer Reports ranking as the safest hospital in Colorado and the Steamboat Springs School District’s continued streak of being accredited with distinction are helping the cause.

“As long as we maintain competitive infrastructure, and we don’t ignore transportation, (location-neutral workers) will continue to come here,” Ford said. “This is going to be an increasing component of the economy. It helped us weather the economic downturn we went through.

“If we focus on being a great place to live, we win.”

A Yampa Valley Data Partners economic forecast that Ford helped prepare in 2011 stated that “if we could get all the (location-neutral business workers) to leave their home offices and report to work at a centralized office complex it would need to house over 1,000 employees and would account for approximately 6.5 percent to 7 percent of Routt County’s total private industry sector personal income.”

The report also estimated the location-neutral sector generates more than $52 million in personal income, which is equivalent to the personal income generated by the county’s hospitality and food services sectors.

“LNBs are significant to Routt County’s economy,” Ford wrote in the report. “They are a source of primary jobs that pay on average 20 percent above Routt County’s current median income.”

Bursting a bubble

O’Reilly said it took him about two years to pull the trigger and open an arm of his business in Steamboat. He was nervous at first about turning his home and former ski escape into his workplace.

“I never wanted to burst my bubble,” he said. “But I hired one employee, and I found this is not as scary as I think. I couldn’t be more excited. Now, it’s my goal to be one of the best companies in town.”

Still, he said there are a few hurdles to overcome.

“The two biggest challenges are direct flights and access to the Internet,” he said. “The other challenge is connecting a location-neutral business to prospective employees. If you get those three things right, gee whiz man, it’s game time.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com


Dan Hill 4 years, 9 months ago

Good to see the focus on location neutral businesses (although we shouldn't forget that much of the location neutral workforce consists of individuals working independently). This is a much better way to build a vibrant economy and well paying jobs than subsiding more people with no money to spend to come ski here.

I disagree with one point Chris makes. Direct flights are less important than frequency of service. That low season period when there are two flights a day are an absolute killer for business travel.

In terms of broadband, reliability is a bigger issue than speed. I had a two day outage last winter caused by Comcast's equipment freezing (who would have thought, it gets cold in Steamboat?) As a local neutral worker, when your Internet is down your business stops.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

LNBs might convince SB that Vail is not the enemy but part of a regional LNB economy. Thus, flights from Vail Valley are more helpful than flights from DIA. Thus, SB area LNBs working with other LNBs to get more flights out of Edwards is not a loss for SB, but a victory.

SB is just too small to support a wider variety of flights and instead of defaulting to DIA then we look towards the bigger regional airport as a way of improving flight options.


Rob Douglas 4 years, 9 months ago

If there was a "Like" button available, I would hit it for Dan Hill's comment as it matches my personal experience when it comes to flights and broadband since I arrived in the valley as a LNB more than a decade ago.

The subject of LNBs came up at the Coffee and a Newspaper gathering this past Wednesday morning at the paper's offices. There was some good discussion about this important and growing segment of our economy and I received an invite to get schooled by one of our local LNBs about some of the problems they are confronting. An invite I will accept.

If there are other LNBs that would like to chat about the pros and cons you're experiencing, please email me at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com


Melanie Turek 4 years, 9 months ago

It's also worth noting that not all LNB workers are entrepreneurs, freelancers, or working for a business that happens to be based in SS but which could be based anywhere. Some of us work for large, established companies, but because the work we do can be done from anywhere, we are able to telecommute from SS. This is a growing trend in the workplace--what we call an increasingly "virtual" workplace--and any efforts to attract LNBs should keep these workers in mind. Generally, these are salaried employees with good benefits, and that is good for the SS economy, too.


Rick Akin 4 years, 9 months ago

I have to agree with Dan and Rob on the air service. More frequent and more reliable air service out of Hayden is a lot more helpful to me that more non-stops. Driving to Denver for flights gets pretty old. I am a lawyer and have a significant office in Austin (also an office in Denver). Most of my work is Texas related, although the clients are all over the world. We do take local clients and they are mostly handled by my younger lawyers in Austin, who are also licensed in Colorado at my insistence. For broadband, though, I have used Zirkel Wireless for several years and their service is fast, reasonably priced, and awfully reliable. The service I get from Zirkel is actually faster and cheaper than the service available at my offices in Austin.


jerry carlton 4 years, 9 months ago

I have had Zirkel since 1/1/09 and think I have called them twice in almost 4 years. Things were corrected within an hour of my call.


Joe Solomon 4 years, 9 months ago

I would love to see a great co-working space open here in town where everyone can pop in for a desk as needed, offer permanent space to 1-3 person companies and be a spot for out-of-town folks to pop in when they need a quiet spot. Maybe a great shared conference space and kitchen area too offer some collaboration as well. There is such a wealth of intelligence and creativity in this town and would be nice to have a spot where all could collaborate - much like this place that we have been visiting a lot recently for 3 separate companies:



Rob Douglas 4 years, 9 months ago

Let me add a thumbs-up for Zirkel. While I don't have them now because of line of sight issues, I used them at a previous location and they were great. Customer service was excellent.


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 9 months ago

"Customer service was excellent."

The key word being "was," now they're merely above average. Before the new support setup, there used to be a recorded network-status message indicating whether they knew of any problems, now discontinued despite my pleas. Used to be, you'd talk to a Zirkel employee when you called. Now, it's outsourced level-one techs, apparently. Plus that they're in America, minus that they're just there to document and escalate your problem, and don't seem to have basic knowledge of Internet troubleshooting... "What's a traceroute?" I was asked yesterday. Adds at least fifteen minutes to the time it takes just to find out if they're aware of a problem, more likely 30.

I continue to recommend their service, as a former ISP owner/operator I know how tough a service it is to provide well, and know they must be feeling the pinch of DSL availability (yeah, only took 'til 2012) in South Routt. If enough customers contact them and ask politely, maybe they'll bring back the network-status recording, perhaps as a dead-end recording with its own # on the phone menu. Otherwise, it's call, leave a number, get called back in 15, ask about the network status, wait 15 for another call, just to find out they already know and they're working on it -- which, if I'd known, would've allowed them to keep working on it instead of having to return my call, as I wouldn't have bothered them.


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 9 months ago

"I would love to see a great co-working space open here in town where everyone can pop in for a desk as needed..."

I was shopping around a proposal for exactly such a facility back in '98 or so, had an architect draw up a blueprint even, for the entire top floor of that building next to McDonald's after it was built, but before it was occupied. I was going to headquarter my ISP there, have medallion ski passes... Didn't happen, though... I think the idea may have been a little before its time.

I also was the consultant for wiring up Internet access in all the rooms at the new hotel across the highway, there, around the same time. Used Cat 5 cable to wire up Internet separately from the phone system, brilliant in its simplicity, really. During all the bankruptcies/ownership changes, I thought it might be a good spot for a telework facility +lodging. Then I learned that at one point, a receiver had all the Cat 5 ripped out and replaced with Cat 3, and sold off the Cat 5. Better for a telework center to use hardwired Ethernet rather than wireless.

I only mention this because of the thought that occurs to me now... Iron Horse.

/me ducks and runs for cover


John Weibel 4 years, 9 months ago

That would be a good use for at least part of the iron horse as it is a lead weight around the cities neck. I think that a private enterprise should step in for a public private partnership on something like that though.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 9 months ago

I agree with Rob, et al. Dan's comment is spot on. I held my nose and voted for the recent tax. I may not do that twice. What I see missing was in Rick's comment - reliable service. And I mean long-term reliable.

What does it mean to potential future Chris O’Reillys, when they read the air program has reached a cliff and may have no funds one year out?

Because I benefit, I'm fine when my taxes support reliable and long term passenger markets (with proportional representation on that programs board). But I do not trust the bubbles we create with direct flights and their year to year uncertainty, particularly direct flights to the City du jour. In my view, betting our economy on increasing direct flights, as we are now, is the same as betting that oil will always cost the same.

A good discussion.


Anne Barounos 4 years, 9 months ago

Love the hot-desk/conference facility idea. Also useful would be a pay-per-use telepresence/high-def video conferencing suite -- perhaps a small Regus Business Center? That being said, reliable wi-fi is the most important thing of all. Citywide wi-fi would be great. If increased flights into HDN are not feasible, an alternative to the Alpine Taxi DIA shuttle would be nice.

BTW, Steamboat's own LNB study from about 7 years ago noted that many LNB workers are well paid, and tend to be active in their community. My friends at the SSWSC, Steamboat Relay for Life, Steamboat Rotary and Routt County Democrats would agree!


Ulrich Salzgeber 4 years, 9 months ago

I would like to focus on the comments regarding more reliable air service into the community. As you know the majority of our air service is subsidized to the tune of about 2.3 million per year. The cost is bore by the Ski Corp. and our visitors paying a lodging tax and recently by all of us through a very minimal sales tax. Certainly Ski Corp and Lodging benefit from the airline service but some of us have long recognized that it is the entire community that benefits. I believe it is time to begin a dialogue as to how we can achieve more frequent air service into the valley. The good news is that we have excellent infrastructure including a state of the art radar landing system.


Melanie Turek 4 years, 9 months ago

I would love to see more year-round flights out of Hayden, but I have found that it is much more reliable to drive to Denver during spring, summer and fall then to rely on the flights, which are often delayed or cancelled... sometimes for weather--including the dreaded heat-related weight restrictions in summer--but just as often, it seems, for mechanical and other reasons. Not sure how to make that better. A ride-share "board" of some kind would be terrific... I bet a lot of us are making the trip often, and why not share the trip?

I agree with Anne that a rentable telepresence or just HD video system would be terrific. Some hotel chains have partnered with Polycom and Cisco and others to offer than... maybe the Sheraton would be interested?


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

I think co-op working spaces have largely been made redundant by wireless and cell phones.

So then maybe a good use for the accommodations tax would be a citywide free wi fi. Obviously, a very nice amenity for tourists.

Presumably, it would not be as fast as the LNB's primary connection, but it could also serve as a very useful back up connection.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

The flights issue needs greater public discussion.

The traditional question is what can be done to add flights.

The actual situation is that the airline program has been experiencing escalating costs to just preserve current flights. A trend that is expected to continue. The additional sales tax is mostly to avoid cutbacks in the number of flights/seats.

If current trends continue then when the sales tax is up for renewal then it'll need an additional 1% sales tax to continue current service levels.

At some point we are going to have to restructure the program to get the costs under control.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

Mr Bideau, It appears to me that the one thing that gets great respect and is considered to be distilled wisdom by city government are "studies"

I think the city overall has decent policies for LNBs. Note how the article mentions the LNB being run out of a condo which could be viewed as a violation of city zoning, but city isn't off trying to classify LNBs working at home as commercial uses. And amenities like the golf course or tennis center work for residents as well as tourists.

And, as Scott Ford noted, the city having good schools is a huge boost. Most location neutral work requires education and so attracts families that consider education to be important.

So not a whole lot for city government to fix for LNBs. But city is also doing nothing to promote itself as a place for LNBs. Which is where something like free city wide wi fi works as a tourist perk and as helpful infrastructure for LNBs. And for tech LNBs, it allows locally trying applications that typically might be more at home in higher tech urban areas.

Likewise, city should be hammering cell phone providers to install 4G locally. City can probably provide studies showing that despite the modest population that there would be enough users.


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 9 months ago

"That would be a good use for at least part of the iron horse as it is a lead weight around the cities neck. I think that a private enterprise should step in for a public private partnership on something like that though."

Absolutely, the part that gets burned down (to train the fire dept, and kill the bedbugs) and rebuilt at someone else's expense. The city definitely shouldn't get into the telework center business.


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 9 months ago

BTW, those holes in the Iron Horse walls wouldn't be genuine Hell's Angels cut-out-around bullet holes, would they?

"I believe it is time to begin a dialogue as to how we can achieve more frequent air service into the valley. The good news is that we have excellent infrastructure including a state of the art radar landing system."

True. I would venture that the biggest risk to the telework idea would be losing air service. I may live in OC, but I get taxed for air service, too. In the case of the flight program, without having had an opportunity to vote on it -- which is one reason I can't afford a tax increase for more cops around here, heheh... Sometimes, SBS decisions can impact OC residents pretty hard, since we wind up spending plenty of money in the County Seat for this, that, and the other. Sorry, O/T...


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 9 months ago

"I think co-op working spaces have largely been made redundant by wireless and cell phones."

Absolutely not. Cell has roaming fees. The achilles' heel of all wireless technology is the upstream bandwidth -- we can't all talk at once. What I and other, more remote freelancers, plus SMBs whose teams have never met in person, need in Steamboat is a NATted Ethernet port to jack into and go VPN behind the firewall of a home office (literal or figurative) or remote client.

Besides, the bandwidth provider would be the City (and a wireless link in such case would do fine), at a reasonable profit of course, as part of the operator's contract. A list of approved support vendors (NDS, Kent M., etc.) can interface with various corporate IT offices to get those who need it up and running, City's IT just keeps the bandwidth available. This would be high-quality, reliable bandwidth, with better upstream and security than is typically found in lodging facilities.

http://sloanreview.mit.edu/the-magazine/2009-fall/51116/set-up-remote-workers-to-thrive/ http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/08/how_ibm_is_changing_its_hr_gam.htmlibm_to_employees_you_pay_for_internet_now.html

The facility could be marketed for team-building and training retreats, plus working vacations -- a lot of us work/contract for overseas companies or partners or teammates, meaning we can work all night and play all day, and none's the wiser. But, we still need the things we have in the office already -- printer/scanner, relic fax machine and land line (staffed by someone, billed), some privacy for audio/visual conferencing that doesn't look like a hotel room. Something with a mostly open floor plan with dynamically rearrangeable office furniture, with 2-3 offices with doors, in addition to a conference room and kitchen.


Tourists already have many ways to get free Internet access without city-wide wifi. There's an unmet need for temporary business-grade Internet access, which those who need it are willing to pay for, particularly if it comes with a non-luxury lodging opportunity. One of my first dialup ISP customers in 1994 worked for McLaughlin Water Engineers, he was only occasionally in town, for a few days or months (MWE was/is the City's water/sewer consultant). They'd put him up at places like Shadow Run.

While the original intent of providing low-income housing was noble, it just doesn't seem like the things that went wrong with that plan are fixable, so anything which might make it at least revenue-neutral should be pursued. Otherwise my "SBS taxes" will likely go up to pay for it, again without my vote. So please, before we have to unpave any more streets to afford to maintain them, as happened recently with Sharp Ave, get the money for Iron Horse from the corporate world, even if that means me, because I'd get a service I need, which in turn is fully tax-deductible if I'm using it for business. Get it?


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 9 months ago

In a nutshell, I'm saying use the LNB sector's tax deductible Internet payments to pay off Iron Horse by using it to fill an unmet need of that sector, with or without lodging.

These are hard times, and many temporary residents (think snowboard/kayak brand reps, my ex-MWE friend) who qualify as LNBs but don't really have a voice here, could use a subsidized housing option as much as anyone else, if it comes with great upstream bandwidth, especially if the alternative is another sales-tax increase to pay for Iron Horse on top of temporary broadband already costing a premium. Also functions as a business incubator, due to office/meeting/presentation (with facility's projector) space.

"Likewise, city should be hammering cell phone providers to install 4G locally. City can probably provide studies showing that despite the modest population that there would be enough users."

Good luck with that. Too remote -- even if there are enough users here, there aren't for over 100 miles in most any direction. So, something like the flight guarantee plan would be needed, where the City needs to guarantee revenue during mud season, etc. before anyone goes out of their way to provide a luxury. Unless equipment costs radically drop, the amortization of such an upgrade is too far out to look good on the quarterlies, compared to more urban environments with less challenging geography.


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 9 months ago

"BTW, Steamboat's own LNB study from about 7 years ago noted that many LNB workers are well paid, and tend to be active in their community."

I'm worried that a fresh study would find downward mobility causing these same workers to now be working more hours for less money, thus being less active in the community (assuming LNB only means permanent residents). The big change is more remote employees treated as contract laborers now responsible for their own lodging, Internet, health insurance etc. rather than as employees of their sole paycheck provider with company health insurance, etc. I know people who went remote for a company, only to be simultaneously fired and re-hired, to do the same work for less pay and no benefits. Without even a freebie day off to re-plan their lives.

Seven years isn't that long ago, but for LNBs, I don't think any study predating 2008 is a reliable indicator of today's reality. Many freelancers have been contending with sustained influx of long-term unemployed into their fields, whose nothing-to-lose rates drive compensation down across the board. My own business partner on a long-term R&D project (with team consulting gigs thrown in) we both sustain with freelance work, recently took a two-year position in China. Better pay, same work -- coding Javascript. Our DB guy left a year earlier, for the greener pastures of London. Better pay with benes, so he doesn't need the part-time income we provided him any more. That's one less LNB each for Boulder and CO Springs, and one in OC on hiatus while I beef up on SQL

This is called brain drain, and it's a longer-term consequence of Wall Street's ginormous, unprosecuted crimes -- the country I grew up in (this one) had brain gain. Talk about sending jobs overseas. My partner and I are thus effectively both on sabbatical from our Colorado-based business, hard to have a U.S. side project from the other side of the Great Firewall. Plus, I told him, spend every second of free time you get, seeing China. When he gets back, we'll compare notes over a beer, I was there for a month 25 years ago when China was also a completely different country.


Rick Akin 4 years, 9 months ago

Eric has clearly given this a lot of thought, but my question is why wouldn't private enterprise be a more logical provider for this kind of facility. I see similar facilities in lots and lots of other markets.


rhys jones 4 years, 9 months ago

Listen to Eric, folks, he knows what he's talking about. Don't listen to me; I am anything but typical.

Dad said "Let's do this on a shoestring" and that's what I am forced to do, now in his absence -- no marketing capital, no advertising, just Google. As I have previously related, I have been primarily a business applications programmer since the Jarheads shoved COBOL down my throat in 1974. Even my current endeavor centers itself around a comprehensive database and system of programs, the automated version of Dad's estimating system. Along the way I have had to learn my own HTML, Javascript, CSS, PHP, MySQL, Linux, networking, DNS, SEO, HTTP, TCP/IP, and WordPress -- and those are just the protocols I use now, not the failed ones along the way. Jack of All Trades and Master of None, I've just done what I had to do to get Dad's numbers on the air.

I've poached a lot of couches along the way, and washed more than my share of dishes. Even now my housing situation is not enviable (except for the view). But I just talked to the guy in Oklahoma this morning -- a repeat customer from the past, he has moved on to a major player -- an imminent new client -- the healthy hits from Alberta continue (I guess they've got big oil around Edmonton) and it is Kuwait's "earnest payment" which has been tipping my bartenders lately, balance due soon. So I've been bringing some oil money back to town.

It amuses me to read about "LNB's" most on a remote payroll, with bennies, flying planes all over. I'm just a bush pilot; I have no voice here, listen to the experts.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

City should absolutely not operate a co-op working space. City should absolutely not try to create and market a business service. The most the city should consider would be to rent a space at Iron Horse on favorable terms. Presumably, if there is demand then someone capable can operate the service.

Likewise for citywide wifi, city should not own and operate it. City should put out for bid the cost of providing 128kpbs free wireless connection with presumably some usage limits. With the expectation of the business then charging for higher speed or uncapped connections.

The great mistake the City made with Iron Horse was purchasing it and thinking they could own, remodel and operate it as if they were smarter than private investors. It would have made so much more sense for the City to put out for bid 20 (or however many) housing units at whatever "affordable" rent and seen whom all placed bids on how much of a subsidy that making unit available at that rent would require. Then private investors could have provided the affordable units as part of their longer term business plan.


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