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Destination: Downvalley

Naomi Havlen

You’ve probably noticed by now ” the middle and lower end of the Roaring Fork Valley is growing.

Residential construction continues to boom, as communities like Aspen Glen and Willits join Blue Lake, Dakota and Sopris Village in drawing many Aspenites downvalley. It’s a trend that’s been hot for a decade or more, but now a growing number of businesses with longtime footholds in Aspen are following suit. Still more are planning to do so soon.

After all, if employees sleep, eat and play downvalley year-round, there are advantages to packing up an Aspen office and taking the business closer to its workers, not to mention a growing full-time local clientele.

In some cases, the price of land in Aspen and a need for space are what dictate a downvalley relocation or expansion. Jim Dallman, owner of Pacific Sheetmetal, opened a Carbondale location eight years ago. The business had been located in Aspen since the late 1960s, and still has a location in the Aspen Airport Business Center.

“We didn’t have enough room to manufacture everything in Aspen, and now in the midvalley we have probably eight times the square footage,” he said. “We still bring a lot of our business to Aspen because of the big homes, but there’s also a lot of them being built in the golf communities of the midvalley, like Aspen Glen and River Valley Ranch.”

Money matters

When Craig Rathbun purchased Aspen-based commercial real estate firm The Fleisher Company two years ago, he envisioned expanding the business from Basalt to Rifle.

At the time, there was no company that solely handled commercial real estate in the midvalley, just residential firms handling commercial properties on the side, he said.

“Taking advantage of that opportunity from Aspen was going to be very difficult,” Rathbun said. “My main concern was whether I could open an office in the midvalley and still serve my Aspen clients.”

In October, Rathbun moved the majority of his staff into a Carbondale office, leaving his key Aspen-area brokers in their office on Main Street. He says business in Aspen is as strong as ever, and the lower cost of doing business downvalley has allowed the Fleisher Company to grow exponentially.

Employees cost The Fleisher Company less downvalley, he said, noting that an employee who has to commute from Glenwood Springs to Aspen might ask for a $45,000 salary, while an employee who must travel just 15 minutes might ask for only $40,000.

“And my facility expenses are 25 to 50 percent of what they were in Aspen,” he said. “Other savings include going out to lunch in Carbondale with clients ” it’s 50 percent less than what it costs in Aspen. Office supplies … everything is less down here.”

Rathbun said those savings have contributed to the company growing threefold in the last two years, from nine employees to 21, with additional offices in Grand Junction and Scottsdale, Ariz.

The employee advantage

The benefit of doing business downvalley goes beyond the bottom line for some local companies.

Reese Henry, a 40-year-old Aspen-based accounting firm, opened a small office in El Jebel in the late ’90s. Clients are not seen in this office; instead, the firm uses the space so workers who live downvalley can easily stop by to put in a few hours.

“It’s really a convenience. I live five minutes from that office and I wish I could use it more than I do,” said company co-owner Denise Jurgens. “It’s really where you go to stay away from the phone and get some work done.”

Still other businesses have bought into the closer-to-home concept entirely. Cottle Graybeal and Yaw architects “agonized for five years” over whether to make a permanent move downvalley, said co-owner John Cottle. After being in Aspen’s Elks Building for almost 30 years, the firm was deeply rooted upvalley.

“We started out getting a little office in Basalt, a tiny place that allowed people who lived here to work here,” Cottle said of the firm’s first midvalley location. In summer 1999, Cottle Graybeal and Yaw made the move entirely, hanging onto the space in the Elks Building as a place to meet with upvalley clients.

With the firm’s work established nationwide ” on both coasts and throughout the valley ” what did it really matter if its office was located in Basalt, Cottle questioned. And with Highway 82 widened to four lanes, getting upvalley for meetings wasn’t nearly the hassle it once was.

But the primary reason for the move was the quality of the firm’s work, and the value placed on its talent.

“We decided that physical location of the office wasn’t as important as where families were located for the long term,” Cottle said. “We studied the effects of less time spent commuting, and determined that people would spend half of the extra time with their families and half working. And that’s really proved to be true. People here do more intermixing of lifestyle and work.”

Ironically, Cottle Graybeal and Yaw has been working for the past two years on the Obermeyer Place project in Aspen ” a redevelopment that should make it possible for some longtime Aspen businesses to stay local.

“That’s terrific, and it’s wonderful for them,” Cottle said of the plans. “And I feel like in Basalt, we’re local too.”

The firm will always keep its Aspen ties through projects like Obermeyer Place, he said, and in the meantime, Cottle enjoys bicycling to work from his home in Basalt.

“We see ourselves being able to serve Aspen clients and projects more efficiently, because the bulk of our workers can spend more time working for our clients,” he said.

Considering the move

Harry Teague is another architect with strong Aspen ties, and he’s just waiting for the right time to make a move downvalley.

Teague has bought land in Basalt and has designed a permanent office space for his firm. Now he’s waiting for the time when building a new office is economically feasible. The plans, he said, developed when he noticed most people in his office commuting upvalley every day.

But that doesn’t make it an easy decision.

“There are, in fact, a lot of things that are great about being up [in Aspen] ” not the least of which is going cross-country skiing or running up a mountain at lunchtime,” Teague said.

And then there’s a slight concern about being “out of the loop” by moving away from Aspen, even though Teague’s firm already works up and down the Roaring Fork Valley.

“We will have to make a conscious effort to be involved,” he said. “We intend to continue to be involved civically, and with all of the work for nonprofits we do in Aspen, because we want to stay connected to all of that.”

Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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