Made in Park City: ski pole manufacturer will relocate to town
Park City leaders have approved a grant to help a bamboo ski-pole manufacturer as it moves its headquarters from Silver Creek to Park City, continuing City Hall’s efforts to nurture a more diverse economy than the one of today.
The Park City Council unanimously agreed to provide $20,000 to a firm called Soul Play. The elected officials clapped just after the vote. Nobody testified during a hearing prior to the decision.
Mayor Jack Thomas and the City Council did not spend an extensive amount of time discussing the grant before voting. The support from the mayor and the City Council appeared to be based on a broad set of factors.
City Councilman Tim Henney praised the application for the grant as being "terrific" while the mayor said the ski poles made by Soul Play, branded Soul Poles, are indestructible.
Henney, however, mentioned a concern based on a business moving into the Park City limits from an unincorporated part of Summit County. Jonathan Weidenhamer, City Hall’s economic development manager, said he discussed that topic with his counterpart at the County Courthouse without issues.
"I hope you really thrive here," City Councilman Andy Beerman said with Soul Play represented in attendance.
According to the Soul Play grant application, the company plans to use most of the funds — $13,000 — on the relocation and expansion. The bulk of that sum, $12,000, will be to subsidize rent. Another $3,000 will be spent on building a showroom and a workshop. The remainder of the grant money — $4,000 — will be spent on art space, including on art materials, tools and personnel.
The company agreed to operate inside the Park City limits for at least three years as a requirement of receiving the grant. A precise location was not identified, and a company executive said Soul Play continues to consider spots.
The application says the headquarters will also have a workshop and retail space. A City Hall report issued prior to the meeting envisioned the Park City operation as being a "sustainably based light-manufacturing, workshop retail shop and office space."
Soul Play markets itself as an environmentally friendly company that uses bamboo acquired through direct trade, plastic grips made out of recycled materials and aluminum that is post-consumer. The company makes "socially responsible and environmentally conscious ski and trekking poles," it says in a statement submitted to the elected officials in anticipation of the grant decision.
"If awarded the relocation and assistance grant, Soul Sports will commit to converting the determined space into a symbol of pride for a sustainable Park City," it also says, using another moniker for the firm.
Material submitted by the company indicates it organized a "build-your-own bamboo ski poles" set of workshops during the 2013-2014 ski season. The material says its revenue increased 75 percent from the previous ski season. Online revenue doubled during that period, it says.
"The opportunity to move Soul Sports current location from the Silver Summit Business Park across highway 40 and into the core of Park City’s recreational, commercial, and residential community will be a boon to the company’s hotel concierge, resort group sales, retail, and walk-in revenue streams," the material says.
Bryon Friedman, one of the company’s co-founders, said in an interview the company is considering creating a lifestyle apparel line using sustainable materials. He said Soul Play wants the factory to be open to the public for demonstrations and offer the opportunity for people to build their own ski poles and a range of other products in the company’s workshop.
Friedman said the company was founded in the spring of 2011. It now has two full-time employees and between five and ten part-time workers depending on the season. Friedman is one of three co-founders and is the only one currently involved on a day-to-day basis. He estimates there are approximately 3,500 pairs of Soul Play-made poles in use.
Park City leaders in recent years have strived to diversify the economy from one that is heavily dependent on the related industries of tourism and construction. If those industries suffer, the thinking goes, others types of businesses could make up for some of those losses.
Nearly a dozen Park City and Summit County officials sat on a public panel Wednesday to outline the way forward on wildfire management and to answer questions from residents.