Friday, July 16, 2010

For valley, itís Christmas in July

Rising tide of Allen & Co. conference lifts boats of all businesses


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg walks out of the Sun Valley Inn during the Allen & Co. conference last week. Bloomberg was one of hundreds of guests who came to the high-profile conference. Photo by Willy Cook

The week following the Fourth of July isn't of much significance for most people. But for anyone in the Wood River Valley service industry—restaurant workers, fly-fishing guides, hotel operators, yoga instructors, florists, rafting guides and even knitting instructors—it's Christmas in July.

And Allen & Co. is Santa Claus.

Allen & Co. isn't a household business name in most of America, but in Sun Valley it's synonymous with billionaires and big business for the small town.

For 28 years now, New York City investment firm Allen & Co. has brought to Sun Valley about 300 media and technology magnates, including frequent guests Microsoft Chair Bill Gates and News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, for five days of discussions and forums. Many of the guests bring their families.

Sun Valley Resort hosts the conference, but the wealth spreads across the valley end to end.

Mandy Tavakol, Allen & Co.'s executive director of the Sun Valley conference, said the firm hires an army of locals to babysit the moguls' children. She said one local has worked all 28 conferences.

Allen & Co. also hires local whitewater rafting companies, yoga instructors and fishing guides to help guests relax and enjoy the outdoors. Even those not directly paid by Allen & Co. feel the buzz. For example, babysitters routinely rent about 50 bicycles for the week from Sturtos sports store in Ketchum. Olin Glenn, bicycle shop manager, said this amounts to about two-thirds of Sturtos' bicycle stock.

Sturtos is just one example.

"It's millions of dollars for our community," said Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau.

It's difficult to calculate the conference's economic impact on the valley because no data exists singling out participants' spending. Plus, those businesses and babysitters that do work with Allen & Co. are sworn to secrecy about their dealings. If anything is said at all, it's usually vague.

"It has a pretty healthy impact on us," said Peter Scheurmier, who operates the Avis Rent-a-Car franchise at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey.

The word that repeatedly came up time and time again among area proprietors was "thanks" for Allen & Co. continuing its conference in remote—but beautiful—Sun Valley.

Shawn Tierney, owner of the Ketchum restaurant Il Naso, said Allen & Co. rented out the entire restaurant on July 8, something the company has done for three years now. The restaurant seats 67 people.

"It's a really nice kicker in the summer," Tierney said. "And it's great for our employees."

Tierney said Il Naso isn't the only one to reap the benefits of the meal. Allen & Co. requests flowers for the evening, provided by Taylor'd Events.

Tavakol said most of the conference's participants stay at Sun Valley Resort. But the company also brings in entertainers, private-jet pilots and more for the week. Some of those stay at the Tamarack Lodge in Ketchum. Manager Debra Thomas said that provides a little boost but remarked that the renowned event doesn't necessarily attract more tourists.

Cindy Forgeon, owner of Best Western Kentwood Lodge in Ketchum, also said the week of the conference has a "very positive impact" on business.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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