It's a surreal scene for a rural Idaho county of about 20,000 residents.
Sleek, million-dollar planes roar into and out of Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, parking side by side and disgorging a vast array of business and film industry moguls. But the round-the-clock roaring of engines at the airport and the rank-and-file line of jets on the tarmac are often only the most tangible signs that Allen & Co.'s annual Sun Valley conference is underway.
The first week in July means many things for people, but in Sun Valley (and at the airport) it means the conference is commencing, as it is sometime this week even though specific dates are under wraps. In years past, the guest list has included Fortune 500 names like Sumner Redstone, David Geffen, Diane Von Furstenberg, Rupert Murdoch, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey.
Allen & Co., the New York-based boutique investment bank, is returning to Sun Valley this July for the 24th straight year. The company's annual summer conferences have earned a reputation for high-roller deal making done on the hush-hush, even as executives try their hands at tennis, golf, wildflower walking, angling or whitewater rafting.
Herbert Allen Jr.—variously known as an investor, underwriter, and broker to some of the biggest names in entertainment, technology, and information—has enabled such high-end hookups as Seagram (now part of Vivendi) and Universal Studios, Disney and Capital Cities/ABC, as well as the public offering of Google.
And this year's gathering comes on the heels of two of the most important announcements in the business world in years.
The world's richest person, Microsoft leader Bill Gates, said he is retiring from the software company to become a full-time philanthropist with his foundation. Then, last week, came the promise from the world's second richest man, Warren Buffett, that he'd give the preponderance of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation's activities, internationally famous, are focused on world health—fighting diseases like malaria, HIV and tuberculosis—and on dramatically improving U.S. education.
Besides hosting the financial world's movers and moguls, "Camp Allen" also hosts an estimated 400 guests, including family members of the participants, at the Sun Valley Resort. Several of the participants own homes here as well.
"They are great clients of ours," Sun Valley Co. spokesperson Jack Sibbach said. "They are very well organized. People work on this conference all year and we make sure it all goes smoothly for them. We appreciate them coming back year after year. It's a big influx for even the community, not just us, but we can't give out any figures."
Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Carol Waller said much the same thing.
"We estimate (the economic boon to the valley) to be in the millions," she said. "Data on the event is not released, however."
Retail stores, restaurants, art galleries and recreational outfitters all benefit from the influx of visitors. In addition, Allen & Co. employs valley residents in a myriad of positions, including many, many babysitters.
"We love being here," said Mandy Tavakol, the conference's executive director. "The valley is great to us, and we try to employ as many as possible in Blaine County."