Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper speaks to local business leaders Friday morning during a breakfast at the Laundry in downtown Steamboat Springs.

Photo by Scott Franz

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper speaks to local business leaders Friday morning during a breakfast at the Laundry in downtown Steamboat Springs.

Gov. Hickenlooper spends Colorado's birthday talking business in Steamboat Springs

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— Gov. John Hickenlooper was so impressed by what he saw Friday morning on a tour of Elkstone Farm in Strawberry Park, he gave the growing farm's leader some unsolicited marketing advice.

photo

Terry Huffington/courtesy

Gov. John Hickenlooper visits Elkstone Farm's stand Friday morning along with Monica Verploeg, Terry Huffington, Alex Berger and Natalie Savage.

"He was encouraging us to do more with social media and getting the word out about what we do," farm owner Terry Huffington said after the governor's tour.

Huffington said it's advice she'll take when she and her other employees aren't so busy on the farm.

"It's something I know I need to do, we just never have time to do it. We're really working," she said.

Business and how to grow it here was the big focus of Hickenlooper's morning visit to Routt County.

Prior to arriving at Elkstone, Hickenlooper was at the Laundry in downtown Steamboat Springs eating breakfast and talking to Huffington and a group of 16 other business leaders about a variety of issues.

Hickenlooper kicked off the breakfast talk by telling the group that at recent startup weeks in Denver focused on new businesses, this city was mentioned a lot.

"The buzz on Steamboat was crazy," Hickenlooper said. "The identity and the brand of what Steamboat stands for is incredibly powerful."

Some of the marketing successes Hickenlooper cited was Steamboat's ability to turn local companies like Big Agnes and Moots into "little celebrities" and to attract Olympians to come back and live here after they've trained here.

Business owners agreed Steamboat is a great place to start and have a business, but they shared with the governor a list of things they think is holding the city back and preventing some businesses from growing more.

Some of the items have plagued this mountain resort community now for many years.

Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Tom Kern told the governor that the community needs to figure out how to fix a situation where a high cost of child care is pushing families and valuable employees away.

"After the first child, everyone sticks around. The second child becomes a challenge though because of the day care cost and people transition out of here," Kern said. "That is something as a community we have to figure out. When you add day care on top of (a high cost of living), people have to make hard choices and we've seen people leave the valley."

Even if they can afford the child care, business trips for location neutral workers can be a headache.

Steamboat Ski Area CEO Chris Diamond said regional flights need to be improved, and he mentioned the unreliable service to and from DIA and higher fares as ongoing challenges.

"The demand (for local flights) is only going to increase," Diamond said.

And when businesses grow to 70 to 80 employees here in Steamboat, there are other concerns.

Big Agnes co-owner Bill Gamber talked about how his company still is having growing pains here.

"We have three different warehouses now; we need one big warehouse," Gamber said. "We have five different locations. That's the type of challenges we have for medium-sized businesses to grow here."

Several bankers at the meeting also told the governor they'd like to see regulations for lending eased up.

Another business owner said his employees were feeling the pinch from the rising cost of health care.

The governor took a long list of notes at the meeting.

There were no silver bullets or campaign promises made at the meeting, but business owners appreciated having the ear of the state's top elected official for an hour.

"It's nice to be able to sit in a small setting like this and just talk about this stuff," local banker John Kerst said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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