OGDEN — After several years of concerted rebuilding and efforts to capitalize on its natural assets — two rivers and the nearby Wasatch mountain range — the city of Ogden has become a magnet for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
But little over a decade ago, Ogden’s bedraggled downtown had been all but abandoned, and few viewed the former railroad boom town as the cool place to live.
A recent Newsweek article noted the city’s turnaround, touting Ogden-Clearfield area’s wage gap — the expanse between rich and poor in terms of income — as the narrowest in the nation, as per the U.S. Census. The write-up described Ogden as a “middle-class oasis” due to its good-paying jobs and lower-than-average cost of living.
Travis and Shalae Larsen, then young 20-somethings, relocated from Idaho to Ogden in 2002 after Shalae completed her degree in landscape architecture at Utah State University. Travis had landed an electrical job in Brigham City and Shalae signed on with a company in Salt Lake City, so Ogden seemed like the appropriate midpoint to establish home base.
“We perused ‘homes for sale’ booklets and saw this great old victorian for a crazy-cheap affordable price,” Shalae Larsen said. “And we had fallen in love with Historic 25th Street — we loved its vibe.”
Shalae even wrote her masters thesis on design guidelines for Ogden’s Historic District, reveling in the neighborhoods where her great-grandparents met while riding the streetcar.
“For the first five years, neither of us worked in Ogden because there wasn’t a great job market for what we were doing,” Shalae said. Once the recession hit, both she and Travis were commuting to Salt Lake City for work but chose to keep their home in Ogden with its network of nearby mountain-biking trails and three ski resorts within a half-hour’s drive.
“We instantly got very involved in the community here,” Shalae said. “It would have made more sense to move to Salt Lake City, but its cost of living was much higher.”
By 2006, they had each launched their own companies — Shalae’s io Design Collaborative and Travis’s Arc Blue Electric Inc. That move cut down on their daily beeline between Ogden and Salt Lake City. Both rent office space in the historic Scowcroft Mansion on the southwest corner of 24th Street and Monroe Boulevard, an east-central Ogden area now ripe for redevelopment.
Shalae’s advice for newcomers?
“Get involved,” she said. “Our level of activity in the local community has helped our networking and it’s a win-win situation. The community benefits from our time and expertise, but then our businesses also grow.”
Ogden’s lower cost of living serves as a boon for entrepreneurs.
“As a business owner, you can have low overhead but we’re also getting this groundswell of activity and vibrancy,” Shalae said of the mix of residents with roots and newcomers with energy. “There’s just a lot of really interesting things happening, and people are experimenting with different ideas.”
Joel Grasmeyer, 43, falls in that latter category. The independent software developer has spent the last decade creating business apps for the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and the web.
“My wife and I moved here in 2006 — she got a job at ATK and I was already working from home on my software business,” Grasmeyer said. Relocating from the Los Angeles area afforded a slower pace of life and “much better skiing,” he added.
The couple bought a house in North Ogden and Grasmeyer discovered he could rent instant office space for $50 to $75 per month at StartUp Ogden, which provides shared downtown work space through a partnership between Weber State University and Ogden City.
“It has a really good vibe to it, and super-fast Internet service,” Grasmeyer said. “I work from home a few days and there a few days per week.”
An obvious advantage to StartUp Ogden is the chance to connect with other entrepreneurs. Each Wednesday, Grasmeyer said he participates in a lunchtime event called Hack Ogden, where a speaker is invited to talk about topics such as video-making, sales techniques, 3D printing and website development.
“The goal is to create 750 tech-related jobs over the next 10 years out of that space,” Grasmeyer said.
Other benefits of working in downtown Ogden are nearby workout opportunities plus a plethora of fun restaurants.
Grasmeyer also remarked on Ogden’s appealing real estate market.
“We sold our house in southern California and it seemed like all the houses here were 50 percent off,” Grasmeyer said. “I call it Boulder (Colo.) with half the cost of living.”
Nick and Kim Bowsher relocated from Washington to Ogden in September 2011. Nick’s promotion at work prompted the move, and Kim said she gave up a great architectural job to accompany him here.
“We lived in Eden that first year and commuted to Salt Lake City. We hated it ... but we had promised the company that we’d stay for two years,” Kim said.
By fall 2012, the couple moved into Ogden proper, and Kim dove into her freelance architecture work. A barside chat with Kym Buttschardt, one of the owners of Roosters Brewing Company on Historic 25th Street, led Kim to join Ogden’s Junior League and to make a host of new friends. Soon her freelance work expanded into marketing and public relations, and in September 2012, she formed a community group called Ogden Young Professionals.
“You sound so braggy to say you’re thriving, but I’m doing well,” Kim said. “This town has something going for it in terms of interconnectivity ... I have been able to do things here that I really think I have no business doing.”
Those feats include starting a summer concert series and community farmers market at the Oasis Community Garden. She also helped organize this month’s Harvest Moon festival on Historic 25th Street, a Saturday event that drew in tens of thousands of people.
“All the things I’ve wanted to do have been crazy ideas in the back of my head — and somehow you can pull them off in Ogden,” said the 29-year-old.
In late 2013, the Bowshers bought a bungalow in east-central Ogden, part of the city’s urban renewal efforts to replace ramshackle structures with new but vintage-style homes.
“We love the house and neighborhood,” Kim said. “One of the things that was a real draw is that I can walk from my front door downtown and be anywhere I need to be. It’s a small town with big opportunities.”
Rod Kramer, outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Weber Pathways, moved to Ogden three years ago from Missoula, Montana, where he said he directed tours for the Adventure Cycling Association for 35 years.
“I moved here because of this job,” Kramer said, also spurred on by advice from a friend who said “you need to go there because it’s going to explode and you’ll be here on the ground floor.”
This is a tremendous resource for Ogden and Weber County,“ Kramer said of the cultivated trail network that surrounds and bisects the city. ”I’ve loved trails my entire life, and here I am in a position to promote them in a community that is beginning to embrace them.“
Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.