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All Trails Lead to Truckee
“I predict to you in a few years there will be many companies like ours here. They’re already calling saying,
‘How’d you do it?’” ~ Trailrunner International CEO Jim Wilkinson
Part 2 of our You’re Based WHERE? series, which highlights local tech-related businesses that are outside of the tourism trade, looks at media strategies firm TrailRunner International
When talking about new industries in Truckee, it’s impossible not to mention TrailRunner International. The company is working to break the mold of what being a Truckee business means.
TrailRunner International opened their global headquarters in the Pioneer Commerce Center in Truckee in 2016. Stepping into the office gives you the feeling of standing in an airplane, but with better decor and better beverage options. A huddle of desks in the shape of a honeycomb sits in the center of the space. This is where the Truckee office’s 24 employees sit, even CEO Jim Wilkinson. He does not believe in senior employees having offices. He thinks that all employees should be treated equitably, and that should be reflected in seating arrangements. He’s quick to grab an employee a coffee or run an errand for them if they need.
From the name, you’d think TrailRunner has something to do with, perhaps, trail running. But it is an international media strategies firm, focusing on corporate communications for special circumstances. They help companies through milestone moments — IPOs, mergers, and acquisitions — as well as with crisis management. Decidedly not what you think of when you think of Truckee. But Wilkinson wants to change that.
More groundbreaking than what they do is how they choose to do it. Wilkinson has 25 proverbs that are the company’s cornerstones. They range from “no wasted motion” to “priority vs. pressure.” TrailRunner aims to make ethical choices in the kinds of clients it brings on, with environmental and social justice being important causes. They work hard, but smart. They don’t keep set office hours, encourage activity during the workday, and are planning to build locker rooms in the office. Wilkinson calls this an integrated lifestyle, where your work life isn’t a separate microcosm of your life, but rather all of the pieces work together.
THE NEW ERA
Wilkinson, 46, has owned a vacation home in the area for many years. He chose to base his company here as he sees Truckee as a future business center. He believes Truckee sits in a strategic place in a growth corridor between San Francisco and Reno. Young people don’t want to live in cities anymore, he says. They want to work somewhere where they feel they are making a difference, and live somewhere that fits their values.
Historically, you couldn’t have it both ways. Managing Director Jim Hughes — a self-proclaimed recovering ski bum — said that when he was living in Telluride in the ’90s, the notion for a company like TrailRunner to base themselves in a mountain town was implausible. The technological infrastructure was lacking, the technology to virtually connect with people wasn’t the standard that it is today, and companies were not willing to take the risk to see if they would succeed.
“It’s one thing for visionaries to see that, but it takes a while — about 20 years — for that tech to become accessible to the mainstream,” Hughes said.
When he lived in Boston, he had his career in the city, but would have to load up his family and drive more than three hours to New Hampshire to ski every weekend. Now, with strong focus on an integrated lifestyle, the fact that he can take a call or send an email while being at Donner Lake or at the pump track with his kids, is a huge burden lifted.
“It’s much easier to be productive and contributing while also being present in my family’s life and not having this massive artificial shift in geography every weekend,” Hughes said.
They love this town, and want to do their part to help provide opportunities, battle income inequality and elevate the local economy. With the dominant industry being seasonal tourism, they know it’s hard for locals to make a steady living. They want to provide an alternative to those inconsistent jobs for those who seek it, and see a lot of untapped potential in the young people in this area.
“We’re sort of at the vanguard of this awakening of the potential,” Wilkinson said. “I predict to you in a few years there will be many companies like ours here. They’re already calling saying, ‘How’d you do it?’ LinkedIn is full of people wanting to work here.”
They are also acutely aware of the fear of overdevelopment in Tahoe, and share those concerns. Wilkinson favors strategic development for the area, which would only allow companies in line with Truckee’s values to set up shop here. He also thinks businesses need to be in the right locations, which is why he is a huge proponent of the Pioneer Commerce Center, where TrailRunner is located. Industry belongs out there, he said, retail and restaurants belong downtown.
“I think Truckee needs to be very proud of itself and celebrate the good and realize that they have taken the right path on development,” he said. “Because I have seen with vivid leanings what happens when they don’t.”
Wilkinson is proud to have had a hand in bringing his current staff and their families to Truckee, which includes 12 school-aged children. He expects to double the size of his staff very soon, and looking to the future, could see a full campus here for his company. He thinks that the climate of his business fits seamlessly into Truckee, and there’s no better indicator of that than the Truckee Chamber of Commerce’s new marketing campaign.
“I think what Colleen Dalton [Brand Communications Director for the Chamber] and the town are doing is actually quite revolutionary,” Wilkinson said. “Their motto, Base Camp for a Big Life — think about that for a second. It’s like chocolate and peanut butter fell in the same thing and all of a sudden you have Reese’s peanut butter cups. TrailRunner International is the living, breathing manifestation of Base Camp for a Big Life.”
The Chamber has historically focused on supporting existing businesses in the town. But Dalton said that it has recently expanded its scope to include helping new businesses open in Truckee. It aims to attract year-round, sustainable businesses that don’t rely on snow. Quality of life is what entices people to move here; it’s one of the highest-rated aspects of living in this area, according to local surveys administered by the Chamber. But besides providing the lifestyle people want, Truckee’s location makes it a big draw, Dalton said.
“Access and location to other markets is our differentiation,” Dalton said, citing the town’s proximity to the Reno-Tahoe Airport, I-80, and the railroad.
Dalton added that TrailRunner embodies everything they’re trying to do with this new campaign.
“He’s looking for talent, he puts kids in our schools. It stimulates the economy,” Dalton said of Wilkinson. “He really is the poster child.”
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