OGDEN -- The secret to building a successful life and a thriving city economy is the same: It's all in building relationships.
That's the advice Stephen W. Fishburn, Ogden's business development manager, shared with business students at a Ralph Nye Series lecture this week at Weber State University.
"Deals get done because someone likes you and believes you," Fishburn said about getting businesses to locate in Ogden. "There have been cases where we weren't offering the best deal, but they trusted us and they believed we would do what we said we would."
Fishburn, a WSU graduate, said when he was hired by then-Mayor Matthew Godfrey, the goal was to rebrand Ogden, a city that in the 1920s was regarded as so dangerous that crime boss Al Capone reportedly refused to step off his train here.
In more recent years, Ogden had a reputation for a "shady" downtown mall, as one student described it, and lots of empty downtown storefronts. In the past few years, the area that formerly held the mall has become the Salomon Center, an upscale entertainment and recreation center featuring iFly Utah (an indoor skydiving system), iRock Utah (rock climbing), Flowrider (indoor surfing), Megaplex 13 theater and restaurants.
Fishburn said the first major success in bringing national businesses to the area was attracting window-blind manufacturer Levolor, creating 500 jobs. Next came HomeDepot.com.
"You know Home Depot, the Fortune 50 company?" Fishburn said. "Their plan was for headquarters in Atlanta and somewhere else. We competed with 85 cities and won. They will ultimately hire 850 people, and that's about a $500 million infusion of capital into Ogden, Utah."
In the case of HomeDepot.com, Ogden was an underdog, he said.
"It came down to six cities. Las Vegas offered a new building, free rent for five years, and a check for $2 million. We couldn't compete, but we had to continue to work on it. The site selector and I became absolutely best friends. You need to know exactly what they need," Fishburn said.
"The best way to close a deal is to know exactly what the client needs, and to earn his trust."
Fishburn said attracting national businesses is especially important, as those businesses make Ogden more attractive to those that follow. For example, he said, having a highly successful location of Five Guys Burgers in downtown Ogden has helped legitimize the city to other national businesses.
Fishburn predicts Ogden soon will be "the North American hub for the bicycle industry."
Several companies in that industry already are located here, and Fishburn said he will be going to Taiwan and hopes that visit will persuade more companies to move here.
Fishburn said he owes his success to lessons he learned from his mother, who decades ago ran a travel agency from a desk in the Ben Lomond Hotel.
Athleen Fishburn was known for the muumuus she wore, with matching hat bands, and for making sure every customer was satisfied with his or her trip.
"I watched her all those years, and learned amazing lessons from her innate ability to connect with people," said the younger Fishburn, whose first job was counting suitcases for tour groups.
"From my father, I learned hard work."
Fishburn went on to run the family business, then to be a partner in Morris Travel and several other travel businesses. One of his partners was David Neeleman, who went on to found JetBlue. Neeleman and Fishburn spent Mondays as stewards on the planes of their Utah travel company.
"He was the slowest peanut passer in history," Fishburn recalled. "He would sit down and talk to people. I'm sure we got complaints from people who didn't know they were talking to the CEO."
Fishburn told business students that many today consider building relationships in business unnecessary and old-fashioned.
"Can you run a company the old-fashioned way? Yes," he said. "Do you need technology? Yes."
But technology alone won't be enough to guarantee prosperity in the business world, Fishburn said. "Any success I've had in life or in my business life was all tied to my relationships."