Chamber CEO: Diversify local economy |

Chamber CEO: Diversify local economy

Kara Stoller/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

The 2018-19 school year has begun in Steamboat Springs. Kindergarteners and their parents are full of nerves and excitement. Seniors walk into school with an air of confidence like never before. This school year will be different for some kids, wondering if this might be their last year in Steamboat.

In the coming months, Smartwool employees will face some tough decisions. For those employees with children, the new school year brings the everyday challenges that come with being a parent plus the magnitude of difficult choices. They need to decide whether to keep their current job and uproot their family to Denver or stay in Steamboat and find new employment.

On Aug. 13, VF Corp. announced its plan to move global headquarters to Denver from North Carolina.  The Colorado Economic Development Commission offered $27 million in tax credits to VF Corp. as an enticement to locate in Colorado. While this is good news for Colorado, the move will definitely leave a hole in our community. VF Corp. will certainly be able to better collaborate and innovate among its brands.

The loss of high-paying jobs with great benefits along with spending power of Smartwool employees in and around Steamboat is one element. As we go through this transition we will learn more about what the economic impact looks like.

The larger gap, and in my mind more difficult to digest, is the possibility of saying goodbye to neighbors and friends. The community will feel the loss of thousands of volunteer hours that have benefited so many in the Yampa Valley. We’ll lose community pride in a homegrown brand. And most importantly, there’s the personal toll situations like these take on each employee and their family.

This is why the Chamber’s economic development work is focused on diversifying our local economy. We want to foster a healthy business climate and superior quality of life bolstered by a diverse economic landscape, one that isn’t as susceptible to a single business’ decision. One that sustains many types of talent and job growth. We do this to maintain a stable and sustainable community that can persevere.

The day after the VF Corp. announcement, Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association pulled together a meeting with Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, to understand the state government’s perspective on incentives provided to VF Corp. Representatives from Smartwool and other outdoor recreation businesses based in Steamboat attended the meeting along with local government leaders, Colorado Workforce Center, and Chamber Board of Directors and Economic Development Council representatives.

We discussed how Benitez’ office could further support Routt County. In February, the Colorado Economic Development Commission approved our request to add Routt County to the Rural Jump-Start Zone program, a state tax relief program that incentivizes rural business. The development commission chose to include Routt County but exclude the city of Steamboat Springs. Routt County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski asked Benitez to have the development commission revisit that given the VF Corp. move. We fully support this request and will strongly advocate to have Steamboat added into the program.

Benitez suggested leveraging the Outdoor Retailer show, now located in Denver, to share with outdoor recreation companies how great it is to do business in the Yampa Valley. Benitez is also working with local company Hala Gear on attending the ISPO show, the Outdoor Retailer of Europe.

While we continue dialogue with Benitez on the above items, we are working with Smartwool leadership on ways we can support their employees in this transition and create ways for Smartwool to stay engaged in our community for years to come.

Please embrace our friends and family that work at Smartwool; make that call, send that text, drop off a bottle of wine. The Smartwool team needs the support of this amazing community now more than ever.

Kara Stoller is the CEO of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.

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