Friday, February 12, 2010

Hailey council eyes Sustain Blaine strategy

City would like to see economic development of businesses other than tourism

Express Staff Writer

As the nonprofit organization Sustain Blaine begins writing a strategic plan for economic development across Blaine County, Hailey leaders are eager to promote the interests of the county's largest city.

Hailey Councilman Don Keirn sits on the board of the newly formed Sun Valley Economic Development Corp., the official name for Sustain Blaine. Keirn said at a City Council meeting on Monday that he would work to make sure the organization's goals do not become too "tourism-based."

Sustain Blaine board member George Kirk addressed Keirn's concerns about economic diversity in an interview.

"It's a concern of mine too," he said.

Kirk said the Sustain Blaine vision calls for an economy that "relies less on tourism, construction and real estate." These segments, all of which were hit hard by the recession, made up 60 percent of the county economy in 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available.

"We want to see the most economic diversity," Councilman Fritz Haemmerle said in an interview. "Tourism is an important part of it, but this town existed well before there was a tourism industry."

Mayor Rick Davis said in an interview that some of Hailey's Light Industrial-zoned property could be developed to fulfill some of the goals of Sustain Blaine. Hailey has more such property than any other city in the county.

"This would be suitable for high-tech companies," Davis said. "We would like to see a well-rounded emphasis on many businesses rather than one or two, hopefully some businesses with high-paying jobs."

Haemmerle also questioned the competence of Sustain Blaine Chair Doug Brown, who is going through Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings. Brown said in an interview that he has decided to step down.

"It is truly difficult to take the organization seriously when their spokesman is going through massive bankruptcy," Haemmerle said.

However, Kirk defended Brown, saying he helped bring Sustain Blaine to its current level of organization. Sustain Blaine recently convened it first 13-member board as an economic development corporation.

"He should be commended for his public service at a time when his personal circumstances have been trying," Kirk said.

Brown said he decided last week to step down from his position because he realized he had achieved his goals within the organization.

"We have never had an organization looking at economic development from a countywide perspective," said Diana Takvam, newly appointed spokesperson for Sustain Blaine. "As we go forward there will be different priorities for different communities."

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