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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. 
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 


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No accidental tourists

Economic study shows county’s strengths, pitfalls

"If you take away one third of your income, would that be significant? If you lost one third of your employees, would that be significant?"

Leon Aliski, Dean Runyan Associates project manager.

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County’s economic health is firmly tied to tourism, and its diverse marketplace is a strong, though imperiled, economic asset.

An economic study released last week confirms the county’s tourism dependency, and its status as a maverick, expensive, wealthy, and growing. It also sets Blaine County apart from mountain resort counties in other states for its varying local economy.

Compared to five other mountain resort areas, Blaine is the only county that has both a high proportion of personal income derived from investments and a predominantly resident workforce.

"These two factors generate demand for goods and services that indirectly create local jobs," an executive summary of the study reads. "Hence, Blaine County has a relatively diversified local economy."

The diversified economy is, perhaps, Blaine County’s greatest asset, said study project manager Bill Klein. But it’s also one of Blaine’s most threatened assets as high rents and housing costs could squeeze the county’s lifeblood—its work force.

Research for "Economic Analysis, Blaine County, Idaho" was conducted over the winter for the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber of Commerce by Dean Runyan Associates of Portland, Ore. The study cost the chamber $30,000.

The 88-page report covers issues from population growth, employment distribution and real estate trends to taxes, city revenues and visitor spending. It boasts more than 50 informative graphs and charts.

"We just wanted to get more quantifiable data," chamber executive director Carol Waller said. "I’m really pleased. I really think they did a good job."

The study is intended to assist community decision makers in monitoring social and economic trends in the county, and special focus was placed on quantifying economic impacts created by local tourism. It was released May 30 when Klein and fellow project manager Leon Aliski explained their findings at the chamber’s annual Economic Outlook Breakfast at Elkhorn Resort.

Though the study acknowledges that Blaine is more independent on tourism than many resort areas, "visitor spending is a significant component of the local economy."

One of the most significant findings of the study, Klein said, is that throughout the past decade, visitor spending directly generated one fourth of all jobs in Blaine County, and ¾ when indirect economic benefits are factored in ¾ generated one third of all jobs in Blaine County.

"It shows that travel and recreation are a substantial component in the county," he said. "That presents challenges," such as providing affordable housing for workers and making available enough city services.

Aliski emphasized that one third of the market’s reliance on visitors is very notable.

"If you take away one third of your income, would that be significant?" he asked. "If you lost one third of your employees, would that be significant?"

The total impacts of visitor spending were 5,990 jobs and $120 million in earnings in 2000. That represents 37 percent of all employment and 29 percent of all earnings in the county.

For comparison, Runyan Associates weighed the lodging, eating, drinking and recreation earnings generated in several resort counties.

Out of six resort counties, Blaine was fifth for its percentage of tourist-related earnings at 15.3 percent of total earnings derived from tourist-related spending. Pitkin County in Colorado (Aspen) held the No. 1 spot at 26.4 percent of total earnings derived from tourist-related expenses.

Another of the study’s important discoveries is the delicate balance Blaine strikes between its diverse workforce and the affordability of living here, Klein said.

"Maybe the biggest challenge" facing Blaine County is retaining a diverse, county-based workforce while rents and home costs continue to skyrocket, he said.

The study shows the county’s assessed property value has climbed steadily from about $1.5 billion in 1990 to about $5 billion in 2000. This represents increases of about 9 percent annually.

County-wide earnings have not kept pace with the real estate prices.

Average annual earnings per job in Blaine grew from $18,400 in 1990 to $28,000 in 1999, about 5 percent per year.

"The average sale price of single-family homes in Sun Valley and Ketchum increased from 24 times average annual earnings in 1992 to 35 times average annual earnings in 2000," according to the study.

Hailey and Bellevue have remained more constant. The average sales price of single-family homes in the two south-valley communities has risen from about five times average annual earnings in 1990 to about seven times average annual earnings in 1999.

Should the gap between earnings and home costs continue, Blaine’s diverse workforce and marketplace could be at risk, Klein said.

Among the resort counties compared—Summit County, Utah (Park City), Teton County, Wyo. (Jackson), Pitkin County Colo. (Aspen), Routt County Colo. (Steamboat Springs) and Eagle County Colo. (Vail)—Blaine ties for fourth for population growth with Routt County at 3.4 percent growth over the past decade.

Blaine ranks last for employment growth at 3.6 percent, ranks fourth for per-capita income behind Aspen, Jackson and Park City, and ranks fourth for average single home sales price behind Aspen, Vail and Jackson.

Blaine comes in second, behind Jackson, for the amount of personal income derived from investments, with 36 percent of the county’s income derived from dividends, interest and rent.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.