Our View: Staying on top of economic development | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Staying on top of economic development

— The future of Steamboat Springs Airport popped into the public eye last week, after a Texas company proposed building as many as eight executive airplane hangars at the city site. City staff members supported the proposal, but the Steamboat Springs City Council opted instead to table it.

At the heart of that decision, it appeared, were concerns about the city's ability to meet the needs of SmartWool.

The Steamboat-based company, which makes merino wool apparel, was founded here in 1994 and has grown tremendously.

SmartWool has leased space in the terminal building at Steamboat Springs Airport since June 2002 and currently pays $16,517.18 a month, according to Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord, as well as 73 percent of the terminal building's utilities. The building was fully paid off in 2009, DuBord said.

In its conversations about airport plans, the City Council suggested that SmartWool might outgrow its square footage and need to expand to the space currently used for fixed-base operations.

Although that could move the FBO into a modular unit until a new building could be constructed, it's smart of the city to make decisions with an eye toward accommodating SmartWool.

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In 2005, The Timberland Co. bought SmartWool. Although SmartWool officials have said the company is committed to Steamboat — and we have no reason to think otherwise — business is business, and nothing is guaranteed. We urge the city to work closely with SmartWool in advance of September 2012, when its next option to renew comes up, to ensure that the company's facility and information technology needs are being met. SmartWool is a good-sized employer in town and a good corporate citizen.

That's exactly the sort of business Steamboat should stand behind.

The evolution of SmartWool and its relationship with Steamboat reveals a lot about this community, including its challenges in the economic development arena. Northwest Colorado naturally attracts skiers, campers, cyclists, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Many of these outdoor enthusiasts become home-grown entrepreneurs who build businesses using their expertise in this area. BAP, Big Agnes, Boa Technology, Wave Sports and Honey Stinger — which recently attracted a dream partner in cycling legend Lance Armstrong — are other examples of Steamboat-bred success stories.

But we don't know what the future holds for those businesses. As they gain recognition and their customer bases grow, they might outgrow Steamboat. They might capture the eye of larger out-of-town companies looking to make an acquisition. This may be a good thing, a success we can celebrate provided our reputation for nurturing these businesses ensures that the next SmartWool, Wave Sports or Honey Stinger is up and coming.

It might be that because of our size, remoteness and available housing and transportation, this valley is just better suited for startups and smaller companies, and we should redouble our efforts at this end of the business growth cycle.

The Routt County Economic De­­velop­ment Cooperative, the Bogue Enter­prise Center and SCORE have done an excellent job of understanding the need for diversification and working to help small businesses succeed. As a community, we need to support the efforts of those agencies, as well as technology incubators such as Storm Peak Innovations downtown.

We also must do what we can to stay on top of the technological advances that allow people to work here in a location-neutral capacity and make us an attractive place to live and do business. And we should promote the area as a prime spot for people who can work anywhere high-speed Internet is available.

This is a beautiful place to live and to recreate. This, in itself, is an economic development strategy. We — and the companies that can attract top employees because of the lifestyle afforded by our mountains, rivers and amenities — would do well to keep those strengths in mind.

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