Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New Zealand clothier pulling out of Ketchum

Icebreaker headquarters will be moved to Portland

Express Staff Writer

Icebreaker, a high-end, performance clothing manufacturer from New Zealand, is moving its U.S. headquarters from Ketchum to Portland, Ore.

Troy Ballard, until recently president of Icebreaker's U.S. operations, said rapid expansion is prompting the move. A resident of Hailey, Ballard said he resigned Friday, Sept. 14, because he wishes to remain in the valley to raise his family here.

The company, which has 20 employees in its downtown Ketchum offices, will offer those employees the opportunity to relocate, said Ballard.

Icebreaker branched out from its Wellington, New Zealand, home base to Ketchum three years ago to establish a marketing base in the United States.

"We didn't expect to grow as quickly as we did," Ballard said.

He said the company established a design team in Portland six months ago and its relocation will be gradual. He said the sales and marketing side will move next spring and the operations arm will leave in the spring of 2009.

With a pool of design talent in Portland, that city became a "more realistic" U.S. headquarters for the company, Ballard said. The company expects to have 50 to 60 employees in the next 18 months, he said.

Ballard said he hired the people working at the Ketchum office.

"We have a great team," he said.

In reference to the phased move, Ballard said the main motivation was to give employees "a chance to manage their lives" and deal with things such as mortgages.

No employees wished to comment on the planned move, said Liz Roquet, who declined to state her position with the company, when contacted at the Ketchum office on Monday, Sept. 17. Roquet said the company spokesperson, who would normally handle media inquiries, was unavailable because she was in New Zealand.

One Icebreaker employee later responded from out-of-town saying the phased move to Portland could be a great opportunity for those who wanted to take advantage of it.

"We are growing more and more every season," said Nicole Wark, an Icebreaker regional account manager. Wark, who lives in Ketchum, said that Ketchum is part of her sales area so the move won't have a big effect on her.

"I'm a little bummed not having the office in Ketchum anymore," said Wark, in a telephone interview from Salt Lake City.

Carol Waller, executive director of Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, said she had heard rumblings about the move.

"It's not a huge number of employees but considering they are professional-level jobs and the type of year-round jobs and business diversity that we like to have in this community, it's unfortunate," she said.

Icebreaker employs about 100 people in New Zealand. Ballard said its outdoor clothing is "all pure New Zealand merino wool from performance-based layers to outerwear jackets."

Ballard said he hopes to have the same success here with another company.

"It's been a great run," he said. "I hope to do it again."

Icebreaker was started in New Zealand in 1995 by founder and CEO Jeremy Moon.

"As a company, we are committed to internal evolution, and the reason we can grow quickly and in a healthy way, is because the people within Icebreaker feel they are on a journey of learning and are also evolving as people," Moon writes on the company's Web site.

The company has 1,500 retail outlets and exports to more than 22 countries.

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