I am writing in response to an article (“Risky business: Les Otten and the rise and fall of American Skiing Co.”) written by Marian McCue and John Christie.
It was disappointing to learn after the fact that the story was written by a person who contributed the maximum amount allowable by law to Sen. Libby Mitchell’s gubernatorial campaign. I sat down for a lengthy interview with McCue and I don’t feel that the final article conveyed the depth of our discussions on this complicated matter.
The ski resort business is a tough, high-risk business. We were up front about that with everyone. It is capital intensive, seasonal, weather dependent and involves discretionary spending by the consumer. It is like farming without subsidies.
When I took over Sunday River we had four full-time employees. From the moment I got there to the moment I left my main goal was growing the company and creating jobs. In the beginning, I did everything that needed to be done, from welding broken equipment, to cleaning the toilets to grooming the trails. My heart and soul is still in those mountains.
We put Maine on the map for winter recreational tourism. We created over 1,200 jobs, not to mention the residual jobs from the businesses that sprouted up as Sunday River grew and the tourism economy expanded on the Route 26 corridor from Gray to the Oxford Hills. In the process, we transformed the western Maine economy. For instance, in 1972, the tax base of Newry was $1.3 million dollars. Because of Sunday River, today that community is valued at over $476 million.
We grew into a national company. Times got tough. Shareholders lost money, and as the biggest shareholder I lost the most. I stuck it out with the common shareholders because I believed we could turn things around but the Wall Street investors wanted to break the company up when I wanted to build it up. I was committed to growing and creating jobs.
I’m proud of the business we built and the enormous investment we made in the state and I’m very proud of all the jobs we created. All those jobs are still there and they continue to drive the Maine tourism economy.