Our view: ‘They play where they work’ | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: ‘They play where they work’

Keeping our homegrown outdoor industry business in Steamboat is a high priority, but we believe the city's role is limited.

Although only one of eight recent bids for the Iron Horse Hotel has been made public, Steamboat Today confirmed last week that city council narrowed the list of bidders down to two, and one of those top bidders was BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger.

City officials said the winning bid from Ski Town Commercial was the highest at $3.05 million. And so, for the second time in three years, the group of companies founded by Bill Gamber lost out on an opportunity to purchase a piece of property from the city. We understand it's Gamber's goal to bring all his business operations under one roof, and we very much want him to achieve that goal. But not if it means subsidizing the acquisition of public assets.

Governments typically lose when they offer monetary incentives to attract businesses, and we urge the city of Steamboat Springs to avoid setting that precedent.

The news of the unsuccessful bid by the local company did concern us, because as long as the Steamboat Springs-based manufacturer of camping tents, sleeping bags and honey-based energy gels is searching for a new place to locate its headquarters, it remains a target for another community to lure it away. 

There's no argument that BAP/Big Agnes/Honey Stinger together represent the ideal, homegrown business we want to see thrive here. 

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A big proponent of the company's bid to purchase the Iron Horse is Luis Benitez, head of the state's newly created Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, who traveled to Steamboat in September to address the City Council about the important role the local outdoor company plays in the local economy. He pointed out that the outdoor industry in Steamboat Springs annually employs between 3,000 and 7,000 people, depending on the season, with payroll and benefits totaling $8 million to $10 million.

At issue is the proper role of the city of Steamboat Springs in retaining BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger.

Just as the trio of businesses is good for Steamboat, this community is good for BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger, providing a competitive advantage by allowing them to recruit committed employees who seek the outdoor lifestyle. The same  relationship exists at SmartWool, the manufacturer of Merino wool outdoor clothing, and Moots Cycles, for whom Steamboat is integral to the brand.

Steamboat is a very attractive place to live, which draws a talent class that wants to work in the outdoor industry and enjoy all the amenities Steamboat has to offer, such as a ski mountain, bike trails and wide-open spaces for recreation, all within a mile or two of downtown.

As Big Agnes likes to say about its workforce in its own promotional materials, "They play where they work."

The ideal outdoor industry jobs for Steamboat are the "value-added" positions in the marketing, branding and finance departments.

The role of local government in supporting companies like Big Agnes and Honey Stinger includes adopting policies that enable attainable workforce housing, supporting great schools and providing the amenities that support a high quality of life. Taking strides to increase the inventory of workforce housing here should allow businesses to recruit and retain new employees at lower salaries than they could with higher housing costs.

Instead of subsidizing well-established private businesses through monetary incentives, we'd like to see the city focus its resources on larger issues that will help all businesses in the community grow. In the case of Steamboat, that could include investing in high speed Internet and roads and maintaining gems such as Howelsen Hill and the Yampa River Core Trail. 

BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger have moved well beyond the start-up phase, and their rapid growth in employment is evidence of a successful business experiencing dramatic growth.  

We would urge the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, together with local business and community leaders and the Economic Development Commission of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, to actively engage with Gamber and play an active role in locating new facilities for his companies.

At Issue

The city’s role in helping  BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger find a new headquarters building

Our View

The city of Steamboat Springs should actively seek to retain its homegrown outdoor industry manufacturer. However, we have no quarrel with City Council selling the Iron Horse Hotel to the highest bidder while keeping the property in workforce housing for the time being

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