Location-neutral businesses grow in Steamboat
July 13, 2012
Steamboat Springs — 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.
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