Friday, February 11, 2011

Economic-development overload hits Ketchum

City receives few participants for economy planning

Express Staff Writer

Except for a handful of community members, Ketchum city leaders were alone Monday and Tuesday in molding goals for a healthy Ketchum economy.

Ketchum City Councilman Larry Helzel questioned the priorities of absent business owners at the end of Tuesday's meeting, which closed with seven audience members, about half that of Monday.

"Where are they?" Helzel asked. "Why are they not participating in this process?"

Even though the discussions didn't end with the City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission settling any controversial issues, the implication of their concerted vision is substantial. When complete, the vision will replace the decade-old Economic Development chapter of the city's 2000 Comprehensive Plan, to meet today's challenges. The plan isn't legally binding but a roadmap guiding government policies from here on out.

Doug Brown, executive director of the nonprofit Wood River Economic Partnership, whose members consist of valley business owners, attended both meetings. He said he was there because business owners don't have the time to sit for five hours of meetings.

"They have survival in mind," he said. "We have so much process in our community. People get worn out."

He mentioned the Ketchum Community Development Corp.'s meetings in which 64 community members spent 20 hours over the weekend of Jan. 22 arriving at nine common goals for an economically sound future.

Ben Young, owner of Ben Young Landscape Architecture, left halfway through Monday's meeting but commented on the process before his departure.

"These studies give a lot of generic goals," he said, mentioning a couple of the city's seven bullet-pointed priorities—quality of life, sense of place, business vitality, community core, community collaboration, strategic action and public facilities/services. He said the valley has seen many plans but need action.

Lisa Horowitz, Ketchum's director of community and economic development, acknowledged the mass of related meetings.

"People get on meeting overload," she said, but asserted that this is a process that must be done. "It's a slow process. It's definitely not for everyone."

City leaders spent the two days constructing a sentence for each of their seven priorities, describing the relationship to economic development. For quality of life, the sentence is "build and sustain a quality of life that attracts and retains targeted businesses and a workforce aligned with core values of the community."

She said the chapter should be done by May, but a March 9 workshop will be set to draw in the public and their opinions, using door prizes as an incentive.

Eric Newman is leader of the CDC's economic development team and attended half the meeting Monday and didn't return Tuesday. He said this process for a comprehensive plan is "essential," but the city knows the CDC's priorities—presented at a November meeting—and he couldn't add much else.

"As far as I'm concerned, I've set the context. Now, the city must establish the content," he said, later adding, "But there are certain limitations to what a city government can do. They can set the framework but they can't save us. People are saying 'the economy is dying, save us.' We've got to save ourselves."

Trevon Milliard:

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