Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The problem with cats

Blaine County is populated by cats, figuratively speaking. Our independence makes it difficult to face a common threat, but we've got to figure out how.

Practically no one came here seeking a conventional lifestyle—though after struggling to maintain unconventional lives in the mountains many have longed for a little more convention, or at least prospects for making a living that don't rest solely on the value of a house.

People came here for the place—the beauty, the outdoor recreation and the opportunity to live in a clean environment with Mother Nature wrapped around us. Few came here only for a job, for a scintillating career track or for upward mobility. These are precisely the things that many either left behind or didn't embrace at all.

We are independent cats, with minds of our own, not easily persuaded and definitely not easily herded.

For the past 40 years, we cats have enjoyed relative comfort in the mountains—enough decent jobs to go around, enough money to put down roots, raise families, hike, bike and ski.

Many believed that this life would never be threatened, that the local economy was a kind of perpetual motion machine that could not be stopped.

The bursting of the national real estate bubble put the lie to that misconception as evidenced by the more than 150 people who showed up for the Sustain Blaine public forums for three hours Tuesday. Local government, business and nonprofit leaders turned out because the local economy is in crisis and needs serious leadership to survive the battering the next months will bring.

That sounds terrible, but it's good news because cats' brains have to register a threat before they will wake from their cozy slumber and jump out of the way of the oncoming train.

But where will we land? That depends on how and where we jump.

As a first stopgap measure, residents and second-homeowners need to resolve to spend money in the valley. Otherwise, they will assuredly find themselves with few places to spend it locally.

Second, Ketchum needs to gear up and work with hotel developers to figure out ways to break ground sooner than later in order to shore up the construction industry, a huge part of the existing economy.

Third, the community—all of the cities and the county—need to create an economic development board to seek and target investment in the valley in enterprises that have far-reaching economic benefits for the valley.

And we cats need to take a lesson from our canine counterparts and decide to hunt in a pack for a change.

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