Friday, November 14, 2008

Workshop to discuss fixes for lagging economy

Sustain Blaine report points to concerning declines in county’s younger workforce

Express Staff Writer

Sustain Blaine, a public-private partnership working locally to promote a brighter economic future for Blaine County, will host a public workshop session next week in Ketchum.

The get-together, which is open to everyone, will be held in the community room at the Wood River Community YMCA in Ketchum from 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesday, Nov. 18.

During the workshop, the results of an in-depth study that looked at the state of the economy in Blaine County sponsored by Sustain Blaine will be discussed. The study was conducted by TIP Strategies, a Texas-based economic development consulting firm that was hired by Sustain Blaine to complete the research.

The study looked at the strengths and weaknesses of the county's economy, which is largely driven by the tourism, real estate and construction industries. Those involved in the Sustain Blaine effort are hoping to find ways to diversify the local area's economy.

Many of the study's findings will not come as a surprise to Blaine County residents, who have watched many of their neighbors leave the area over the years due to its high cost of living and a lack of professional-level jobs. Of particular note is the high rate of out-migration to Boise and Ada County since 1990.

The study also shows a higher rate of new housing units coming onto the market compared to increases in new permanent households in the county, which the study's authors link to second-home ownership.

"Blaine County adds new housing units faster than it adds new households. This makes sense in a resort area," the study's authors state in their report.

Another concern with potentially far-reaching implications for the county's economy is the changing makeup of the area's age distribution. According to the study, the 25 to 29-year-old age group constituted the largest segment of the county's population in 1980, at 14 percent. In 2030, that number is projected to decrease to just 4 percent of the county's overall population.

Conversely, those aged 65-years-old and older made up just 6 percent of the county's overall population in 1980. By 2030, that number is expected to grow to 16 percent of the county's overall population.

In all, those between the ages of 20 to 39-years-old made up about 46 percent of the county's overall population in 1980. In 2030, that number is expected to drop significantly to just 22 percent of the county's total population.

"The longterm changes are stark," the report states. "The longterm decline among young adults in their 20s and early 30s is particularly notable."

Altogether, the construction, accommodation and food services, retail, and real estate industries account for 10,811 jobs in the county. That's out of 21,976 jobs countywide, according to the report.

"Blaine County's industry employment reflects exactly what it is: a fast-growing county with a tourism-based economy," the report states.

Tuesday's workshop will kick off the next phase of the Sustain Blaine effort, said Blaine County Administrator Mike McNees. The focus of the next phase will be coming up with actions that can be taken to strengthen the local economy, McNees said.

Participants in the workshop should come prepared to roll up their sleeves and come up with new ideas, he said.

"They're going to put the people who come to the workshop to work," he said. "It's going to be a chance for people to really get involved."

McNees said there is no limit on the number of people sponsors of the workshop hope will attend. He said people of all backgrounds are invited.

"We need everybody," he said.

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