By JEFF STERLING
Recently, I read a fascinating recap of some of your news stories in our local paper.
Your intent to draw new businesses and entrepreneurs to the area is insightful and relevant. You hit the nail right on the head, but please, let me give you an outsider's perspective.
Our county here in Colorado (Summit, with nearby Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Beaver Creek ski areas), while no more beautiful of a place to live than Blaine, draws 20 times the skiers and has more business opportunities, foundations and community activism than anywhere in North America.
The reasons people are drawn here and not there did not appear in the mayor's discussion. I think he's missing the point.
Ask why would entrepreneurs move to new areas? It's not just for an affordable place to live. They need to be able to recreate without it costing an additional salary—and not just them, but their families and visiting friends.
I recently looked into moving our ski industry business there, but there were no programs or incentives available. Not one. Even with a full-time job at the hill, it would cost me thousands upon thousands more to ski with my family and get them insured. We immediately targeted Aspen. Everyone knows they are not cheap, but they take care of their own.
To attract new people, look at what VRI and Intrawest do. First, our resorts offer them a lifestyle they want, while Sun Valley Co. barely competes. Our VRI health insurance for an entire family is less than $200 a month and starts immediately upon hire. There are even health insurance plans for part-time workers.
Your biggest employer, I found, does not offer any full-time employee insurance for a minimum of 90 days, and the part-time workers have to fend for themselves.
Our employers offer passes for the whole family, while yours makes the employee pay for each child or spouse.
Our employers make sure affordable season passes are available for those who own their own businesses, while anyone setting up shop in Blaine will pay thousands for the privilege of skiing.
Take a look at Ogden, Utah. They have been aggressively courting ski industry businesses to relocate there. While Scott USA and Smith both have homes in the Sun Valley area, no one knows it. Why has the public relations effort at your hill not taken advantage of those brands and their location? And, honestly, your national public relations effort in the industry pales in comparison to even smaller hills. They are invisible, so what would attract people there?
And, please take a look at the media. Recent jokes about Sun Valley include "put in the first chairlift in 1935 and have not stopped mentioning it since." That is not a compliment—if 70-year-old news is the best the area has, there is no wonder that Deer Valley, Beaver Creek, Aspen and others grow while Sinclair has to raise pass prices because, little by little, every other revenue source keeps drying up.
Like it or not, the ski hill is your primary business and primary identity. Without it, it is a nice area, but no better than other rural farm towns with no winter amenities and no lake.
And, like it or not, just coming up with housing programs is not the answer. Your town and the hill will need to compete with the better areas to live if you truly wish to see intelligent businesses move their operations in your area.