New York Times - March 5, 2008
OGDEN, Utah - Michael Dowse was talking on
the telephone one day in January and watching the
snow build up outside the windows of his newly
rehabbed office in a 1915 factory complex in this
historic railroad town, where his company, Amer
Sports Winter and Outdoor Americas, has made its
headquarters since last summer.
"We're getting pounded," said a cheerful Mr.
Dowse, who is president of the company, a unit of
Amer Sports, a Finnish concern with subsidiaries that
make skis and snowboards.
"We've got seven or eight inches already." He
sounded hopeful for more.
Fresh powder snow has marketing advantages to
the company, which recently played host to nearly 100
retailers from across the country to test equipment
personally on local slopes, some as close as 20
minutes from the old factory building.
Amer Sports signed a 10-year lease last year for
57,000 square feet, with an option to renew the lease,
in the 209,000-square-foot former American Can
building. The company moved in with 300 employees
The building is owned by Jon Peddie, a developer
based in Steamboat Springs, Colo., who renovated a
portion of the complex for Amer Sports. Mr. Peddie
would not disclose costs.
Amer Sports is the latest sports-related company
to move into Ogden, a former manufacturing town that
is emerging from hard times as a center of skiing and
other outdoor sports.
Other companies that have relocated here in the
last five years include Rossignol, the French ski
maker; Scott Sport, a maker of sportswear and
bicycles; Goode Ski Technologies; and Nidecker, a
Swiss snowboard maker. Kahuna Creatives, another
snowboard maker, and Descente North America, a
unit of a Japanese ski-wear maker, also have their
headquarters in the city.
There were a number of attractions, both natural
and financial, that drew Amer Sports to Ogden, a city of
87,000 people 22 miles north of Salt Lake City. A
commuter rail line connecting the two cities is
scheduled to open next month.
The recreational advantages can be seen on the
helicopter rides that Matthew R. Godfrey, the city's
boosterish mayor, likes to give to business owners.
There are two separate kayak parks in the city,
where two rivers converge. Rock climbing and hang
gliding are also available nearby, while extreme
sports enthusiasts who want to sample rock climbing
in a safe environment can do so in Salomon Center,
an enclosed year-round facility. Salomon, an Amer
Sports subsidiary that makes winter sports
equipment, recently acquired the naming rights to the
City officials are also studying the possibility of
building a gondola to carry skiers directly from
downtown Ogden to nearby slopes.
A Los Angeles developer, Gadi Leshem, has
proposed three waterfront developments along the
Ogden River and has offered to clean up a portion of
Subsidies from the state of Utah totaling $7.94
million may have been as instrumental in recruiting
Amer Sports as good ski conditions, however. The
state provided $2.5 million in an upfront grant to Amer
Sports to cover relocation and building improvement
costs. In addition, the company can collect up to $5.44
million in the next 10 years in the form of a property tax
In the end, "the city had the mayor, the mountains
and the money," Mr. Dowse said.
The subsidies reflect efforts by state officials to
attract makers of sports gear and other
industries. "Land economics and the cost of doing
business in Utah are very low, and our labor force is
young and very well educated," said Jason P. Perry,
executive director of the governor's Office of Economic
Ogden's hopes of turning itself into a resort town
contrast with the torpor that hung over the city for much
of the last 40 years. Ogden had been the state's
industrial center, largely because of its location along
the original transcontinental railroad line. Many of the
prominent buildings and factories in the town date
from the first two decades of the 20th century, perhaps
the height of the city's prosperity as Utah's industrial
and transportation hub.
The growth of the Interstate highway system,
however, began to hurt Ogden in the 1950s and '60s.
The American Can building closed in 1979, and
remained empty until Mr. Peddie started to restore it in
Mr. Godfrey, who was first elected mayor in 1999,
has spent much of his time in office buttonholing
business prospects for the city. He approached Amer
Sports officials early this decade, but "kind of got the
brush off," he recalled.
Mr. Dowse, who grew up in Salt Lake City, was
looking for a United States headquarters site for the
company, which had operations in Portland, Ore.;
Amherst, N.H.; and Carlsbad, Calif. But he
acknowledges Ogden was not on the list.
"I had a perception of Ogden as a boarded-up
railroad town," he said.
When Mr. Godfrey and state officials persuaded
some company officials to visit the city during a swing
through the state in 2004, however, a brief meeting
turned into a full-day discussion.
The image of the old American Can complex - a
group of handsome structures in buff-colored brick
with atrium-style factory spaces lined in sash
windows and set off by a smokestack that rises 65
feet from the ground - may have persuaded Mr.
When Amer Sports officials saw the factory
complex, "they just came alive," Mr. Godfrey said. The
idea of being part of an effort to salvage an old
building, rather than building a new one, was also
appealing to a company with a strong environmental
ethos, the mayor added.
"Being able to preserve the building was very
important to them," he said.
Mr. Dowse concurred. "The building was perfect,"
he said. His new office space is supported by
columns made of heavy square-edged timbers.
Beyond architecture, there are other advantages to
working close to the mountains, including a lenient
attitude toward winter recreation. When the snowfall
reaches 20 inches or so, he said, "we close the doors
and tell the staff to go skiing."