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Ski goggle maker moving out of central Idaho

Bald Mountain in Sun Valley.

Bald Mountain in Sun Valley.  Smith Optics is moving is design headquarters out of the area to Portland, Ore. next year. File photo.

A central Idaho company whose founder invented the double-lensed, vented ski goggle that is now the industry standard is moving operations and 85 jobs out of the resort town of Ketchum.

Smith Optics announced Oct. 20 that its design headquarters will move to Portland, Ore., during the first half of 2015. Other parts of the company are moving to Clearfield, Utah, or Parsippany, N.J. over the next three years.

Smith Optics is owned by Italian eyewear corporation Safilo Group. CEO Luisa Delgado visited Ketchum on Oct. 20 to discuss the move with employees.

“We truly believe that Smith could be delighting consumers and tribes across the world, yet it’s barely available (globally),” she said. “Therefore, we have put together a 2020 plan to really go global with Smith.”

Robert Earl “Bob” Smith, an orthodontist with a passion for skiing deep powder, came up with the double-lens goggles and founded Smith Sport Optics in 1965, establishing its headquarters in Ketchum in the early 1970s. Before he struck a deal to manufacture Smith goggles, however, he often would trade his goggles for lift tickets.

Smith, who sold the company in 1991, died in 2012 at age 78. Safilo Group acquired the company in 1996.

“The thought at the time was that Smith would become a global sports and outdoor brand and would somehow be managed as part of the total Safilo company,” Delgado said. “This never quite happened.”

The recent changes, she said, are an effort to make it happen.

Portland was chosen for the new design headquarters, the company said, because it has a major airport, outdoor opportunities nearby, a talented labor force and access to marketing and consulting firms. Smith will no longer have an official headquarters.

“That’s where the synergy comes from,” Delgado said. “Being one company with multiple brands rather than a one-brand company.”

Ketchum, a small mountain town next to Sun Valley Resort’s ski area on Bald Mountain, or “Baldy” as it’s known to locals, is itself a destination for international travelers throughout the year.

“There’s a sense of sadness here,” said Ron Hayes, the chief financial officer for Smith Optics. “The employees are very closely intertwined with this community. They love it here. I’ve been here 20 years, raised all my kids here. We’re all trying to embrace a new future, new opportunities.”

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