Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Tom Kern is on a mission to influence the influencers in the world of business relocation.
Kern is counting on the Steamboat Economic Development Council’s redesigned Web page, www.steamboatbiz.com, to become the platform for informing the relatively few business relocation consulting firms that do 80 percent of the business in the field.
“It’s about creating relationships,” Kern said. “There are about 200 companies that help other companies find a new home but 20 to 25 that do 80 percent of the business. Really, I have to meet with 25 companies and then follow up. You’re trying to influence the influencers.”
Kern isn’t saying that it’s all that simple to persuade businesses to move their headquarters to a small city in the Rocky Mountains. But without an appealing website that answers the essential questions for business relocation, small markets like Steamboat Springs are at a disadvantage.
“If the owner of a 25-person IT firm had contacted me in the first 30 days after I walked in the door here and asked, ‘What information do you have about business relocation?’ I would have been scrambling,” Kern said. “That info was all there, but it was at the city, the county, Yampa Valley Partners, the Small Business Administration and at Colorado Mountain College.”
Economic Development Council Vice Chairman Brian Berry consults on programming and Web solutions at JDB Technology Solutions in Steamboat, where he is a principal. He thinks the new website will address the needs of location-neutral professionals as well as companies.
“The new Web page should give an independent moving here answers to most of their questions and links to what they need to know,” Berry said.
Economic Development Council member Scott Bideau moved to Steamboat two years ago and is employed as a sales executive for software company Aptean, which has locations from California to Canada. He said the new website focuses on the right things: The reliability of Internet connectivity, transportation issues and the availability of a skilled workforce.
He became involved with the Economic Development Council because he has a passion for connecting with and supporting location-neutral workers like himself.
After originally reviewing the old Chamber relocation guide to determine whether he could work from Steamboat, he decided he would have to move to Steamboat and give it a try. His concerns were the airport, the opportunity to network with other professionals and even the potential of fining another job in case he got laid off.
He actually left Steamboat because he felt insecure about those issues but came back for the summers and, with increasing confidence, returned to stay. Since then, he has become involved in the Ignite Steamboat community, which provides networking for technology-oriented entrepreneurs.
Keeping an eye on tourism
The Economic Development Council is a subcommittee of the Chamber. At the same time its website was rejuvenated, the Chamber’s main site — www.steamboat-chamber.com, with its emphasis on attracting visitors — was revamped, albeit with the familiarity of the same type of fonts and similar color schemes.
One of the main changes is to move a prominent vacation booking window into the background in favor of seeking to quickly form an emotional connection with prospective vacationers.
“We wanted to eliminate some of the text in favor of an iconic photograph that grabs you emotionally,” Kern said.
If activities surrounding the Yampa Valley’s rivers and lakes seem to come to the forefront, Kern said, it’s because ready access to natural bodies of water is one of Steamboat’s big advantages over the competition for summer visitors.
“We have water like nobody else,” Kern said. “Crested Butte, Vail, Breckenridge — they don’t have water like we do.”
Since coming here from Lawrence, Kan., in August 2011, Kern has focused on marketing Steamboat as a tourism destination while working on retaining and nurturing existing businesses. At the same time, he has sought to bolster economic development efforts.
“Tourism is the rock that holds Steamboat in place,” Kern said “There’s a way to grow that, and we’re doing that. There’s a way to have both. It isn’t either or. Probably 30 percent of our economic activity doesn’t relate back to tourism.”
Bideau said he hopes the Chamber takes an additional step and organizes a database of skilled workers who live in Routt County. When he returned to Steamboat, he needed to hire five members for his sales team. It took him six months to find them, but by the time he connected with qualified people who were living in the area, he had hired people from outside Routt County.
Steamboat’s economy always might be based primarily on tourism, but the same attributes that make it appealing to vacationers are also the key to attracting new businesses and the growing legion of location-neutral workers to the Yampa Valley, according to Kern.
That’s why the headline that anchors www.steamboatbiz.com reads, “Elevate your lifestyle, elevate your business.”
“It’s all about the lifestyle,” Kern said.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com