Our View: We can’t afford to fall behind in bandwidth
July 16, 2011
Steamboat Springs — The story reporting Friday that VF Corp. supports SmartWool's new 10-year lease at Steamboat Springs Airport is the best economic development news we've heard this year. But this is no time to relax.
Megabits are likely to be mega-important to Steamboat's future relationship with the outdoor clothing company just as they will be with the growing number of location-neutral workers finding a home in the Yampa Valley.
The need to add telecommunications bandwidth and in the process increase the megabits of data our future workforce can download every second may be more urgent than you've previously understood.
Local technology and business consultant Roger Good said last week that the bandwidth location-neutral workers access here permits them to download about 4 megabits per second compared with a U.S. average of 7. Then there's Japan, where people share data at 22 megabits per second.
"Whatever it is we have, if we're not looking at something that's a 10(-fold) increase in both capacity and speed in the next two to three years, we will fall behind in an economic and technology standpoint," Good said. "We'll fall behind Third World countries."
VF Corp., parent of large outdoor clothing companies including North Face, bought Timberland, and along with it SmartWool, this spring for $2.2 billion.
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The possibility that Steamboat might lose its homegrown woolen clothing company seemed real. And you had to wonder how long a multinational corporation would allow one of its brands to operate out of a remote little town in the Rockies.
SmartWool President Mark Satkiewicz allayed those fears Thursday when he announced that not only had VF Corp. blessed the new lease, but SmartWool also has plans to add 8,000 square feet to the terminal, allowing it to expand its operations and cement its relationship with the city.
It sure feels great to be wanted, and we salute the people at the city of Steamboat Springs who worked to make the new lease happen.
We also reported this month that as a percentage of overall workforce, Steamboat's 1,421 location-neutral workers are greater than the state and even Boulder can boast of. Those workers who telecommute from Routt County to distant offices represent 12 percent of the county's workforce, and their ranks are growing. But they need a little more assistance.
The lifestyle the Yampa Valley offers, close to one of the most affordable and unpretentious ski towns in North America, is an undeniable lure for people who can work anywhere they choose. But for them to work most effectively, they need increased capacity to share data over telecommunications lines. Specifically, they need more bandwidth expressed in the megabits of information they can download every second.
Location-neutral workers aren't likely to be a panacea for Routt County's limping economy. But those same tech and business workers may combine to incubate Steamboat's next SmartWool. And SmartWool itself is likely to benefit from increased connectivity.
SmartWool moved its headquarters to the former airport terminal in 2002 and during the intervening nine years its lease payments helped the city pay off the bonded indebtedness on the terminal building.
Now that the bonds have been retired, an appropriate use for the rental income might be as seed money to leverage grants and pursue the additional megabits we need to grow our local economy.