Friday, July 6, 2007

Valley economy is at a tipping point

By Jima Rice

Leaders of the Wood River Valley's local governments convened in April to discuss whether they wanted to organize as a Blaine County Regional Leadership Council. Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman called the meeting, citing the need to provide more efficient, high-quality public services through intergovernmental cooperation, mutual program management and economies of scale.

The BRLC met again June 27. For the first time, and all officials present appeared to agree on the additional goal of supporting comprehensive regional economic planning. The Wood River Valley Economic Partnership (WREP) applauds this move. It's something for which we've lobbied.

It is absolutely critical that local governments expand their attention to include the health of the valley's business environment. We expect the Leadership Council will continue now to work together to help ensure a vibrant, diverse and sustainable regional economy.

In many jurisdictions, economic planning is initiated solely by government. While WREP believes that a key government role is to actively support a strong economy, we also believe that regional planning will be most effective if undertaken as a public-private partnership. WREP urges the Leadership Council to begin, now, to collaborate in good faith with local interest groups that are already focused on regional economic issues.

WREP is especially interested in local government supporting an analysis of the region's economy to aid planning and action. Our community needs a database of all objective information gathered so far in order to measure success as we take action.

For WREP, the greatest purpose of regional planning is to ensure a thriving economy that will enable our children and their children to live and raise families here. In other words, economic impacts (without sacrificing quality of life) should guide the resolution of all growth questions that affect our community. Problems should be addressed in terms of their impacts, for good or ill, on the valley's economy.

For successful decision making about regional planning, WREP urges that:

- We work together. Trade organizations, individual businesses, development and real estate interests, civic and charitable non-profits, chambers, governments, educational and financial institutions must collaborate. Government must willingly partner with these constituencies in planning for the region's future.

- We initiate regional planning with an economic analysis that assesses the region's economic strengths and weaknesses. This analysis would identify what businesses are here and their contributions to the economy, what businesses are needed for a strong future, and incentives to retain and attract business. It would evaluate housing, transportation, education, and health care issues that affect business success. It would show how we compare to other similar communities. It would teach us progressive ideas that have been tried and proven elsewhere and can be adapted here.

What remains now are three questions: 1. Will the Leadership Council continue on its excellent path of collaboration? 2. Will it work in partnership with relevant groups to pursue regional planning goals? 3. Does the Leadership Council agree on the importance of a regional economic analysis, and will it help fund it?

WREP looks forward to working with the group on progressive regional planning. In addition to issues cited above, the annexations proposed in Bellevue, massive growth in Carey, McHanville and South Valley future development require that we take a regional perspective for the sake of all our communities. Our economy is at a tipping point, and we must act now to ensure it tips in the right direction.


Jima Rice is the founding director of the Wood River Economic Partnership, a non-profit 501c6 organization.

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