Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Businesses burned out? You bet

"Where are they? Why are they not participating in this process?"

Those were the words of Ketchum City Councilman Larry Helzel last week when the council found itself facing empty seats in what was supposed to be a think session on economic development.

The empty seats were no surprise.

The energies of business people—the ones who go to work and keep the valley running day in and day out—are tapped out after two years of battling and trying to navigate the national economic storm that's produced collateral damage in every home and every business in the nation.

The foundation of half the Sun Valley area's economy before 2008 was construction and real estate. Today, the number of foreclosures far exceeds the number of sales. Even the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission is taking time off because there are no new projects in the pipeline for it to review.

Any revival in this sector will be largely dependent on what happens nationally, so what is there to say?

And what about the area's tourist-dependent businesses?

They spent the first half of last year watching the city dismantle the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, the business organization that had led marketing efforts for 30 years.

Chamber business leaders sustained public and private verbal whippings from elected officials and their advisors about marketing and the condition of the local economy. That's something most don't want to experience again.

Downtown business owners spent the last half of last year in hearings fending off a Ketchum rezone designed to permit a superstore in the Light Industrial zone that could have gutted the downtown. The proposal generated packed hearing rooms and intense debates.

In 2006, large numbers of them helped overhaul Ketchum's downtown zoning and form a plan for downtown design,

Beginning in 2007, businesses participated in a long series of economic development planning meetings organized by the private Wood River Economic Partnership, which resulted in an economic initiative dubbed "Sustain Blaine."

From 2008 through 2010, they participated in many, many public hearings on three proposed hotels in Ketchum.

Just the week before Helzel's lament, more than 64 people spent the weekend with the Community Development Corp. to arrive at nine economic goals.

That's not the history of an apathetic business community.

Last week's empty seats were a symptom of dispirited fatigue born of too much "visioning," butcher paper burnout and too little constructive action.

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