Steamboat forum speakers stress keeping workforce local |

Steamboat forum speakers stress keeping workforce local

Sam Rush

Sam Rush, Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus instructional chair, talks about new course offerings Thursday at Steamboat Smokehouse during a forum on local workforce development and education sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.Tom Ross

— Colorado Mountain College Dean of Business Beth Shaw urged a local audience Thursday to strive to provide jobs and the opportunity to start businesses for young adults who grow up in the community.

"I'm a serial entrepreneur myself, and the theme of what I have to say is, 'Grow your own, grow your own, grow your own,'" Shaw said. “The next step is to keep them here to raise a family and start a business. You don't want them to have to run off to the Front Range to climb someone else's corporate ladder."

Shaw, who is based in Glenwood Springs, said CMC is working to expand career-based curricula that help young people in mountain communities develop careers there.

Shaw was speaking at the opening event of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's 2012 Economic Forum Series. Also on the panel were Sam Rush, instructional chair at CMC's Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs, and Clarke Becker, director of the Colorado Rural Workforce Consortium.

Wade Gebhardt, market president for Wells Fargo in Steamboat, which sponsors the series, offered that his experience with recruiting and retaining employees at the local bank meshes with Shaw's theme.

"Locally, we employ about 60 people," Gebhardt said. "Our best, our longest-term employees come from multigenerational (Northwest Colorado) families. It's a challenge to find the right talent we can develop and retain. We do an outreach beyond the community, and for (new hires), the number who stay for three years or longer is less than 5 percent. In many cases, it's better that we wait to fill openings with a qualified local person. There's a sense that we have to keep our younger generation."

Rush said CMC is working aggressively to provide career training through new degree programs driven by the needs of local employers in the cities that host one of CMC's 11 campuses across the Western Slope.

Rush said she is proud that the Alpine Campus has the highest number of students in CMC's new four-year degree programs, with a Bachelor of Arts in sustainability studies and a Bachelor of Science in business administration.

Coming in 2014, Rush said, CMC will begin offering a degree in education, leading to teaching certificates for students interested in primary education. It's driven by an oft-stated desire by public school administrators in CMC communities, Rush said.

CMC also is planning to offer a degree in food and beverage management that will graduate restaurant managers specializing in working the front and back of the house, Rush said. And a new program in graduating certified nurse's aides could provide a workforce for the new Casey's Pond senior living center poised to begin construction in Steamboat.

And when the new instructional building at the Alpine Campus opens, a program that allows students to become Apple computer certified will be based in the new media center.

Becker told his audience that rural Colorado cities must ask themselves whether they are creating an environment that is conducive to doing business, providing an available workforce and then providing that workforce with housing that is affordable.

Colorado communities are prone to tout the lifestyle they offer to prospective employers, but those qualities aren't what makes the difference, he said.

"I'm not saying for one second you should compromise your quality of life to attract businesses," Becker said. "I'm saying quality of life is secondary to profitability."

For community leaders and elected officials, taking the time to visit local businesses and asking them whether they are prospering and whether the community could do more to support them can go a long way toward fostering an environment where the business community, residents and local government are on the same page, Becker concluded.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email