Our View: Finding a fit for Steamboat’s changing economy

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Soon after we recovered from the surprise this week over Chamber CEO Tom Kern’s announced decision to resign his position in order to be closer to elderly parents in Michigan, we were reminded that the search for his replacement begins now.

Steamboat Today editorial board — May to September 2014

  • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Tyler Goodman, community representative
  • John Merrill, community representative

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Kern graciously gave the chamber board of directors three months to find his replacement – he doesn’t leave until the end of September. But recent history confirms that it took four months to hire Kern after former longtime chamber exec Sandy Evans Hall moved on to North Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Evans Hall resigned in March of 2011, the search began in April, and Kern’s hiring was announced in late July. Chamber Board President Kerry Shea and members of his search committee have a big task ahead of them but we’re optimistic they’re up to the challenge.

Another important lesson we learned from Kern’s three-year tenure here is that we can have a chamber executive who can support the resort sector of the economy while pursuing the traditional chamber role of economic development. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Economic development was probably the strength of Kern’s resume, but he didn’t neglect the job of marketing tourism on a limited budget. Far from it.

You can see the duality of the chamber director’s mission in the 2013 makeover of its Web pages. Kern spearheaded a new economic development site with the intent of reaching 20 to 25 companies that do the lion’s share of consulting with other businesses on relocation issues. Essentially, he was targeting the key influencers who could bring new companies to the Yampa Valley.

At the same time, Kern tweaked the chamber’s Web page that primarily promoted summer visitation. He moved the vacation booking window out of a prime spot to let images do the talking.

“We wanted to eliminate some of the text in favor of an iconic photograph that grabs you emotionally,” Kern said at the time.

Former Chamber President Jeff Steinke (who has since left the community) and his board wisely formed two search communities to find a replacement for Evans Hall – one was an executive committee, the second, a citizens committee.

If they are to succeed in finding someone prepared to tackle all of Kern’s initiatives, the new committee members must find someone who understands how to pursue small convention business to bolster Steamboat’s tourism base. They must be prepared to wear out a couple of pairs of shoes calling on local businesses and asking them what they need to be successful.

The new chamber director needs to be someone who can build consensus on telecommunications issues in order to achieve a breakthrough. He or she doesn’t have to be a mountain biker, but it would be helpful if that person has enough affinity for outdoor adventure sports to feel confident attending industry trade shows to pitch Steamboat as a place that is prepared to support businesses in that sector.

In short, the next Steamboat chamber exec must be someone who can work for dozens of bosses simultaneously while moving forward on multiple initiatives.

Dean Vogelaar, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Mountain Valley Bank in Steamboat, was the chamber’s leader before Evans Hall took the reins. In March 2011 he said that Steamboat needed to find a new chamber exec who feels a connection to Steamboat.

“Our community calls for someone who is willing to become attached to it,” Vogelaar said.

And that continues to be the case in 2014.

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