If the boosters of economic diversification in Durango created a poster, their poster child would be Swan Global Investments.
The firm, now with 12 Durango employees and located on the second floor of the Alpine Bank building, moved its headquarters to Durango from El Paso, Texas, in 1997.
Randy Swan, the company’s founder, was a regular Durango visitor, who enjoyed the area’s beauty and the outdoor opportunities and wanted to build his financial firm in the shadow of the San Juan Mountains.
The same attraction that brought Swan to Durango has proved a potent magnet for attracting financial talent to Durango ever since, said Justin Bates, managing director of operations for Swan.
“Attracting talent to Durango has its advantages and disadvantages,” Bates said. “There are two types of people in the financial industry: People who are incredibly skilled and love the city (New York) – they love the hub and commotion of it all – and people who are incredibly skilled and are sick of the city and want to leave.”
Obviously, Swan draws from the latter pool.
Pat Stiefel, head trader at Swan, left behind trading on the Chicago Board of Options Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and now is a committed Durangoan who “wouldn’t leave even if Swan wasn’t here.”
“I was so done with the cabs and the concrete and the smog,” he said of his recruitment by Swan five years ago.
Bates said it is important not only to find the right fit for their employees but also for their employees’ spouses and significant others.
“I always tell people we are recruiting to tell their significant other they are going to move to a place with no Costco and no SuperWalmart and then to watch their face,” he said. “That will tell you if they are on board with the lifestyle we have.”
Swan has learned that both members of a couple must be committed to life outside of a big city for Swan to hire a long-term worker.
“Some people come and realize they can’t live in a small town, but for the hikers, the bikers, the kayakers, they’re in heaven,” he said.
La Plata County Economic Development Alliance Executive Director Roger Zalneraitis said the alliance is currently targeting financial firms for relocation to Durango, and Swan provides an ideal model that trading can be done away from New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
“They literally could be anywhere on Earth with a good internet connection, and they have chosen Durango. It’s why having such a high quality of life is so important,” he said.
The firm, which has $4.8 billion in assets under management, has four mutual funds, manages high-wealth separate accounts and has five collective investment funds designed to meet the needs of retirement planning.
The firm now has offices in Dallas; Tampa, Florida; and Puerto Rico but maintains its headquarters in Durango. It has 40 employees companywide.
Keys to make it workBesides the lure of the great outdoors, Bates sees a couple other ingredients as important in allowing Swan to thrive in a financial backwater: the rise of the internet in the past decade, quality primary schools and Fort Lewis College.
Solid K-12 schools have been key to attract talented employees with children, and FLC has proved a fertile recruiting pool, Bates said.
On Thursday, Stiefel was leading a trading team that included two traders, Max Thilen and Zach Noonan, both FLC graduates and former members of the cycling team.
“It’s the best of both worlds for me,” Thilen said. “I get to be in the financial industry and live here.”
Away from it allDurango’s remoteness also comes up in due diligence with other firms that work with Swan.
Bates said developing contingency plans to keep trading even if a snowstorm hits Durango and knocks out power is important to assure clients that Durango’s isolation won’t be problematic.
Assuring partner businesses that operations will continue through blizzard or wildfire is important to cement relationships.
“People want to know if a snowstorm hits and the power goes out, you can still operate,” he said.
In practice, Bates said Durango has had less trouble with business operations being disrupted by natural disasters than its offices in Puerto Rico and Tampa, which were both hit by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Operating in Durango, Bates said, has made him a great promoter of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
During business calls, he often must explain the train whistle in the background to his peers while playfully noting his view of steam engines from his office window.