Our view: Silver lining
Employees of Smartwool as well as the entire Steamboat Springs community are still reeling from the announcement last week that VF Corp. would be moving Smartwool’s headquarters to Denver within a year.
The news came only days after Molly Cuffe, Smartwool’s director of global communications, spoke at the “Stand for Our Land” rally in downtown Steamboat and talked about the important role outdoor companies like Smartwool play in the local economy, describing the impact of the outdoor recreation industry as an “economic powerhouse.”
We are saddened by VF Corp.’s decision to move 70 employees out of Steamboat Springs, which has always been heralded as vitally important to preserving the Smartwool brand. For years, company leaders have said Smartwool was committed to retaining its headquarters in the town where the company was founded, and so the announced move came as a surprise, especially in light of the fact that Smartwool’s lease with the city does not expire until 2022.
The decision will cost 70 local jobs and about $2.8 million in local spending, which in turn supports another 10 to 11 full-time jobs. There’s no sugar coating the negative impact — it’s a big loss for our community and unsettling for Smartwool employees whose lives are being uprooted.
We acknowledge the support the company has provided over the years to numerous local causes, and we hope we can take Smartwool leaders at their word when they tell us they intend to continue to provide support in the same way they have in the past even though they’re leaving town.
In the larger context, Steamboat’s loss is Colorado’s gain. After splitting into two publically-traded companies, VF Corp. was looking to move its headquarters from North Carolina to a new location, and the Colorado Economic Development Commission was able to offer the corporation $27 million in job growth incentive tax credits to help entice the company to choose Denver. The new headquarters is expected to employ 800 people in high-paying jobs.
Smartwool’s exit also leaves the door open for opportunity.
It’s hard to imagine Steamboat without Smartwool headquartered at the airport, but we are optimistic that city and local economic development leaders will be working hard to leverage that facility into home base for another company, possibly a smaller start-up with growth potential.
As other local outdoor retailers, like Big Agnes, Moots and Hala Gear, have proven, Steamboat can provide a prime location for an outdoor retail company. There’s product-testing opportunities right outside the door, and the active mountain lifestyle can serve as an effective tool for attracting top talent.
Smartwool may be moving its operations elsewhere but it’s legacy could still live for many years to come if some of those employees choose to stay in Steamboat and work for other local companies.
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