Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Welcome to the 'good old days'

Layoff announcements at the city of Ketchum last week rocked a lot of boats. Some who received the news want to kill the messengers—the mayor and City Council—instead of looking at the real cause, the abysmal national economy.

Not since the 1930s has the Sun Valley area or the nation seen such a steep economic decline.

The year it didn't snow and Baldy had no snowmaking was tough, really tough, but there were fewer people in the valley and a good summer was just around the corner.

Other economic recessions created trouble in the local development industry, but the trouble was tempered by strength in the tourist industry.

This time it's different. Every segment of the national and local economy has been ripped by severe errors in judgment—and in some cases, outright fraud—by people in government and finance.

The doors at which anger about the trickle-down distress should be laid are not local doors, but the doors of the senators and congressmen who voted to de-regulate banking and investment. It should be laid at the doors of the finance executives who gamed, milked and bilked the system.

The Sun Valley area's economic distress is a product of the turbulent economic straits businesses and families are trying to navigate. People in resort economies are used to ups and downs, but today's local managers and employees have never seen anything like this year's double-digit declines in revenue.

It should be obvious that tax-dependent local government bodies need to work with businesses to lay the groundwork for projects to help lift the area out of recession. But many residents still do not understand how severely the local economy is being damaged and how fragile it is.

In recent years, Sun Valley-area residents sometimes lamented the changes wrought by time—population growth, more buildings, traffic, loss of formerly wide-open spaces—and articulated a longing for the "good old days."

They may get a taste of them this year.

In the "good old days" the bulk of the valley's workforce was laid off and collected unemployment benefits every spring and fall. Businesses opened and closed on the same schedule. Competition for jobs was fierce. The single stoplight in Ketchum was placed on blink and dogs sometimes snoozed on Main Street.

Sun Valley founder Averell Harriman had the right idea. In the middle of the Great Depression, he built ski lifts and a hotel in the middle of nowhere—and it worked. So did the people who built it.

So, chins up. Time to get out the blueprints for the future.

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