Steamboat Chamber leaders focus on themes of off-season tourism, economic diversity at annual meeting | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Chamber leaders focus on themes of off-season tourism, economic diversity at annual meeting

Frances Hohl For Steamboat Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat's Chamber of Commerce held its 108th annual meeting Thursday to go over this year's efforts to help keep the Yampa Valley's economy vibrant.

Despite a recent public debate about whether or not Steamboat Springs is losing its small-town charm to too much tourism and development, the city’s sales tax growth rate actually decreased for the main summer months this year over last year. But the good news from the Chamber is that efforts to increase tourism in the slow months of late spring and early summer and fall are going quite well.

"We purposely put the majority of spending into those times," said Laura Soard, the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association’s marketing director.

"We just got October's sales tax collection and it increased 5 percent so far from last year," Soard said.

As for the recent complaints involving Steamboat's growth, construction and traffic congestion through downtown, statistics don’t support that conclusion, according to Soard.

"Lodging numbers were down,” Soard said. “It doesn't support that this was the busiest season ever. It's not as busy as what the perception was."

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However, the Chamber's fall "Get up Here" video campaign is attracting more visitors during the off-season. In October, lodging tax collections were up 35 percent.

Steamboat has also landed on several magazine covers this year including National Geographic Traveller Magazine, thanks to the Chamber's "Colorado Hot Springs Loop" tourism project, which promotes a 720-mile loop around Colorado to visit its most beautiful hot springs. Steamboat's Strawberry Park Hot Springs and Old Town Hot Springs were featured in National Geographic and Outside Magazine.

But the Chamber made clear during its annual meeting that diversifying the Yampa Valley's economy beyond tourism would be a big priority.

In fact, the chamber's administrative team is staffed with new and newly promoted leaders.

New CEO Kara Stoller brought in Economic Development Director John Bristol this year. He previously served in the Governor's State Office of Economic Development.

"We need to be proactive in diversifying the economy," he told an audience of about 60 business leaders during the annual meeting held at Library Hall. "We have to target programs and policies to support primary employers and primary jobs that get dollars back into the county."

He lauded the private sector's effort in "co-working space" where new businesses and entrepreneurs can rent out space they otherwise couldn't afford.

He also has plans to attract location-neutral workers and other companies to the Yampa Valley by working with partners, including the Governor's Office and site selectors, which are real estate consultants that specialize in helping businesses find new homes.

"We have a great quality of life here and a growing entrepreneurship ecosystem," Bristol said. "Tourism is the first date for economic development. People visit, and they imagine they can live here and that starts bringing in more people and business."

Bristol says his job is to look out for "clusters" of businesses that are currently working or becoming popular in the Yampa Valley and figure out what needs to be done to keep them in the Yampa Valley and to grow the cluster.

An example of a cluster would be "recreational manufacturers" like Big Agnes or Moots.

"What needs do they have and what do they need to grow?" Bristol said. "And spinoffs… people who tinker in their garage with ideas… how do we encourage those people?"

Another cluster he mentioned was location-neutral jobs, which depend on services such as broadband.

"Broadband is key to location-neutral workers and employees. They can work remotely and work for someone else,” Bristol explained. “They can produce work here and upload it and export their product or service out of the county."