Dealerships, community at forefront for Craig businessman
November 26, 2011
“One of the biggest differences with the Yampa Valley and a lot of other places is people move here to live and then find the jobs that keep them here. The fact that people want to live here is one of my favorite things about the Yampa Valley.”
owner of Cook Chevrolet and Subaru, a dealership with locations in Craig and Steamboat Springs
In the summer of 1979, Scott Cook had just graduated from Colorado State University in Fort Collins with a degree in business management.
Like many new grads, Cook wasn't ready to jump into the business world and spend the rest of his working days toiling behind a desk.
"I love the outdoors," Cook said. "So, I had visions of becoming a ski instructor or whitewater rafting guide or something where I could be outside."
Cook's father, Larry, had bought out one of his partners about 10 years earlier to take ownership of Cook Chevrolet, but joining the family business wasn't at the forefront of his son's mind.
"It was never really decided that I would come back to Craig after college and work in the car business," Cook said. "My parents said I could if I wanted to, or I could do something else."
But, when his father lost a salesman for a year because of health issues, Cook decided to pitch in.
"It was fortunate for me because I had to immerse myself in it immediately. I really had no idea what I was doing," he said. "Had that not happened, I probably would have floated around for a while trying to figure out what I wanted to do. But once I got involved, I didn't want to stop."
Cook said he worked in some of the less glamorous departments at his father's dealership during the summers and on weekends growing up, but it wasn't until he started in the sales department that the car business became a permanent career.
"It was exciting, there was always something going on and I really enjoyed it," Cook said. "I figured if you are going to work, you might as well do something you enjoy."
Cook has been in the car business for almost 33 years now. He said he is constantly amazed by the cyclical nature of the business.
For example, in 1979, Cook's first year as a full-time salesman, the prime interest rate was around 17 percent and fuel rationing was handcuffing motorists around the country.
As with today's down economy and rising fuel prices, buyers in 1979 were also looking to trade-in their burly vehicles for more fuel-efficient cars.
"I can specifically remember this one couple came in with a big Buick two-door," Cook said. "It had almost no miles, it was perfect. But we couldn't resell it to anyone anywhere."
Although Cook remembers his first year in the business and the challenges of trying to move an ever-growing fleet of used vehicles being one of the most difficult in his career, he said nothing properly prepared him for the bank failures in 2008 that contributed to Cook losing his Jeep franchise.
"To think you could have a franchise and all of the financial, emotional and sweat equity invested in it," Cook said. "It was a rude awakening that a lot of things are out of your control and I don't want to see anyone have to go through that again."
Today, Cook manages a business that includes dealerships in Craig and Steamboat Springs. Cook said he and his father share ownership in the business, but that his dad stepped down from day-to-day operations approximately 15 years ago, which was also about the time the family opened the Steamboat location.
Though the car business has seen its share of rough times, Cook said living in the Yampa Valley has been anything but turbulent.
"I love this part of the world, I like the opportunities we have to be outdoors and I like driving five minutes in any direction and not seeing another person for miles," Cook said. "I'd much rather live in the Yampa Valley than in a place like Dallas."
Cook moved to Craig from Denver with his parents in 1961. He said it was his education that encouraged his parents to settle down and stay.
"Dad worked for the car insurance branch of General Motors and they would move their employees about every eight to 12 months," Cook said. "When we came here from Denver, I was getting ready to start kindergarten and my mom (Pat), who was a teacher for many years, told my father that we couldn't move me in and out of schools every couple of months."
Cook said planting roots in Craig was the best decision his parents could have made.
"I thought this was a great place to grow up, that's why I came back here and why I am raising two kids here," Cook said. "The people here are pretty down to earth and they're hardworking.
"There's not a lot of frilly, silly stuff that happens here. People get up and they go to work every day, and I think that is a good value to teach kids."
Cook said he wouldn't be successful without the people of Craig and Moffat County.
"Craig has been very good to me and my family," he said. "We've been here for almost 50 years and we've been fortunate enough to hopefully give something back to the community."
Today, Cook sits on several community boards, including the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership, United Way, Yampa Valley Bank and the recently formed Commitment to Excellence, a group designed to bolster the local educational system.
"I don't think there is another person who has dedicated more time to improving the economy in Craig," EDP Director Darcy Owens-Trask said. "He really believes that a rising tide lifts all boats, and he is very generous about trying to make that happen for everyone."
Owens-Trask said Cook's commitment to the community makes him one of her best allies as EDP continues to grow and diversify the local economy.
"Scott is extremely hardworking and he is very generous with his time and expertise, but the most important thing is he's really in it for the community," Owens-Trask said. "He cares so much about Craig and the Yampa Valley."
However, as dedicated as Cook is to the community, he said he's never seriously considered running for public office.
"People should do things because they are the right thing to do, not whether or not they are politically popular," Cook said. "It's certainly not on the radar now because I just don't really have the time."
But, Corrie Ponikvar, Moffat County United Way executive director, believes Cook would make an exceptional public servant.
"Scott could run on the local or state level and I know he would be widely supported," Ponikvar said. "He's been one of my anchors on the United Way board for over 20 years because he's very well educated, he collaborates so well with others and he cares so much about the community."
Rather than plot a political career, Cook is content with spending the free time he has with his wife of 13 years, Kelly, sons Brent, 12, and Brad, 11, and parents Pat and Larry.
Cook also has a 29-year-old stepdaughter, Britney, who lives in Denver.
"We fly-fish, four-wheel and ride snow machines," Cook said. "We like to get the family together and do things like that."
Cook said the vast outdoor opportunities are why he and his family live in Craig.
"One of the biggest differences with the Yampa Valley and a lot of other places is people move here to live and then find the jobs that keep them here," Cook said. "As opposed to people in big cities who live there because of their job.
"The fact that people want to live here is one of my favorite things about the Yampa Valley."
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