Guest opinion: Ski conglomerate needs Roaring Fork offices
The recent news about David Perry signing off from Aspen Skiing Co. after 15 years got me thinking: Is the departure of the ski company’s No. 2 a one-off, or is it the sign of more such relocations to come as the new “Better Together” Aspen-KSL/Intrawest/Mammoth Resorts/Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows conglomerate takes shape?
Let’s assume for a second it’s the latter. Should our valley be concerned? Is it possible that a piece of the new mega-conglomerate formed by SkiCo and KSL could be located in Carbondale or Glenwood Springs, providing career opportunities and middle-class incomes for so many valley residents? If not, should we consider what we would need to do to help make it happen?
Keeping as many SkiCo employees and however big a part of its new conglomerate in the valley would be a win-win for the community and the business. Here’s why:
The demographics of our valley are trending toward becoming a retirement community. Middle-class professional jobs will create more opportunity for young valley residents to return from college to a career that will help balance our demographics and our economy. The new conglomerate’s presence would spur and support existing ancillary businesses in tech, hospitality, environmental sciences, law, marketing, etc.
The opportunity for upward mobility relieves pressure on affordable housing in times when recent wage growth has been negative 2 percent in the five-county region, including Pitkin, Eagle and Summit, served by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. At the same time in Denver it’s the second highest in the country. It’s not about growth, it’s about opportunity for existing residents and diversification.
Why the Roaring Fork Valley?
Since the birth of the Aspen Ski Corp. in 1946, the operations have always been held in private ownership, and for the past 24 years the SkiCo has been owned by the Crown family. Many valley residents wake each morning thankful that the valley’s primary employer is not a large publicly traded company. We’ve been lucky. By almost all accounts, SkiCo has been good to the community and good to its employees.
Now part of the mission of the new mega-conglomerate is to take the best of what’s been developed in the Roaring Fork Valley and export it, by way of Denver, to the other newly acquired resorts. This includes not just environmental policy and community values, but blueprints from the Limelight Hotel, on-mountain restaurants and many other facilities and programs born and rooted in this valley.
But replicating a design from a blueprint doesn’t always produce the same results. Patagonia’s products wouldn’t carry the same soul and integrity if it had moved its headquarters down the road to Los Angeles and only kept a small office in its hometown of Ventura. Community and place can’t be extracted, kept alive in a petri dish and then mass produced.
How it’s possible
The argument for locating the new conglomerate in Denver is tough to challenge, because KSL, the Denver-based private equity firm, and Intrawest are already based in brand-new offices in the affluent Cherry Creek district and next to the thriving redeveloped Union Station, respectively. But the cost-of-living argument between the Roaring Fork Valley and the Front Range should not be a factor. The median home value in Denver now, after its meteoric rise, is $385,100. In Garfield County, which includes Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, the median home value is $361,800.
The cost of doing business, however, is a legitimate reason. Denver has an international airport. The Roaring Fork Valley has the Pitkin County and Eagle County airports, and Grand Junction is not far away. But not every employee needs to travel, and in today’s virtual world more can be accomplished remotely. More importantly, when customers think of you as “a ski company run by skiers,” being located next to a ski mountain should be more meaningful than the proximity to an international airport.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for locating in Denver is its business-friendly environment. The Colorado and Denver offices of economic development offer millions of dollars in incentives for companies to bring jobs to the Front Range. Ironically, the strategy that they’ve been so successful executing has been recruiting companies not to relocate their headquarters but to bring a substantial portion of their workforce to the Front Range. The Roaring Fork Valley should consider this approach: Offer incentives to keep or locate a portion of the new conglomerate’s employees in the valley.
To initiate the ask, I respectfully petition the Crown family and the powers that be to locate 25 percent of the new conglomerate workforce in the Roaring Fork Valley. In return, the communities of the valley will pledge the support and resources necessary to accept this privilege. Let’s defy ordinary and be better together.
Peter Grenney, an Aspen resident, is a supporter of economic sustainability throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.