Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Looking for the solution

Economic summit highlights goals, challenges for valley organizations

Express Staff Writer

Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, speaks to the business community last week. Photo by David N. Seelig

"We need to know how hard we are willing to go for it," Sustain Blaine board member George Kirk said to a conference room filled with representatives from various Wood River Valley economic organizations and city officials on Thursday, Feb. 14.

Kirk, a Ketchum-based developer, was describing the importance of Sustain Blaine's planned comprehensive economic assessment.

The assessment was one of numerous priorities set forth by the eight non-profit organizations assembled at the Sun Valley Inn for the 2008 Wood River Valley Economic Summit, hosted by the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau. Also presenting at the summit were the Hailey Chamber of Commerce, Wood River Economic Partnership, Ketchum Community Development Corporation, Jigsaw, Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization and Ketchum Community and Economic Development Department.

The summit was the first of its type. Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, said it was organized to make sure the different groups involved are aware of what the others are trying to accomplish, and thereby avoid overlap.

Kirk said the planned assessment would help accomplish the organizations' shared goals of business expansion and increased job opportunities. He was not the only one to feel that way.

"I'm anxious to hear the answers," said Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall, one of the many local government officials in attendance. "Hopefully, we will be able to implement an action plan from the survey and use that to enhance the quality of life here in the valley."

Sustain Blaine, formed last year, is comprised of members from local government, nonprofit land-use organizations, education, various chambers of commerce, and the agriculture, construction, transportation and real estate fields. Its mission is to create strategies to improve the area's quality of life and economy.

The planned economic assessment has a budget of $150,000, provided primarily by Blaine County, the Sawtooth Board of Realtors, A Coalition for Developers and the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau.

Kirk said Sustain Blaine is negotiating the scope of work and a fee with a consulting firm to carry out the analysis. He did not say when he expected the survey to be completed.

The results could affect policies such as affordable housing by determining the economic benefit that a locally housed work force would bring to the region.

"This will let us know, ultimately, if we should involve public money," Kirk said.

Those goals were also backed by the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau.

"We have to have the information and a roadmap to move forward," Waller said.

While there was wide support stated for that kind of detailed analysis, concern was expressed about potential duplication of efforts by different groups, such as the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization, Jigsaw and the Ketchum CDC, all of which listed the recruitment of new businesses as a priority.

"We shouldn't have organizations taking a shotgun approach," Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said.

Ketchum Community and Economic Development Director Lisa Horowitz said it would be more effective to take a targeted approach, perhaps by focusing on specific sectors.

One related issue, the need for community housing, was hardly addressed during the summit, but afterwards Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall and Sun Valley Councilwoman Joan Lamb said they considered the creation of affordable units imperative to revitalizing the local economy, and that the issue will be discussed during future council meetings in both cities.

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