Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Small valley can boost big ideas

Two events in the Wood River Valley in recent weeks might justify applying the proverb, "Good things come in small packages."

First up, Power Engineers, among the valley's premier high-tech industries, is planning on building a small, experimental wind turbine on its industrial property to test not only the design of its 30-foot-high "wind spire" generators, but measure potential wind forces in the area that could lead to wider use of wind power.

Second, eighth-grade students at The Community School in Sun Valley developed their own hands-on poultry food project raising, slaughtering and cooking small chickens to learn up close the source of important food and its preparation.

The lesson from both these projects is this: Small, rural communities seem especially suited to encouraging experimental lifestyle projects that could develop into larger applications.

School students learning early on about the production of food, its nutrition and its preparation are just as vital to the expanding "green" environmental revolution as saving energy and reducing pollution. Young people no longer will consider a supermarket as the source of their foods, but farms and farmers who're essential to a nation's well being.

An adjunct to their education and understanding the importance of agriculture are the weekly farmers' markets in Ketchum and Hailey, where scrumptious fresh produce and farm vittles are on sale.

Power Engineers' wind turbine has its obvious place in the environmental future. If tests are successful, valley homes and businesses could be encouraged through new ordinances to use small turbines to produce on-site electricity, even if only for partial needs. Wind power, along with solar, will lessen demand on utilities and in the end eliminate the need for more coal-fired generating plants that add air pollution.

Successful tests also could lead to the company's expansion and more jobs and a sizeable diversification in the valley's economic base.

Coincidentally, Suntech Power, the huge Chinese solar systems manufacturer, is opening its first U.S. plant in Arizona in 2010, a sure sign solar is landing its proper place in the U.S. economy.

Compelled by the economic slump to take a fresh look at the valley's business health, several groups are studying new economic development models that will encourage entrepreneurship.

In their own ways, the Power Engineers turbine tests and the classroom study of raising poultry have an entrepreneurial flair that could spread.

Small the valley may be. However, not so small that big ideas can't be hatched, as it were.

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