Friday, December 9, 2011

Poll: Airport not as valuable to some

31 percent say Friedman closure would have ‘no impact’

Express Staff Writer

Sustain Blaine Executive Director Harry Griffith addresses Sustain Blaine members and Wood River Valley residents during an economic forum on Wednesday morning. Photo by David N. Seelig

A second round of polling on the economic importance of Friedman Memorial Airport saw fewer participants and more questions on Wednesday, when Sustain Blaine invited the public to weigh in at its regular meeting.

Polling on the economic value of the airport began last week, when Sustain Blaine hosted a forum at the Valley Club and asked participants to determine how valuable the airport is to the local economy.

The participants were limited to business owners, government representatives and other community organizations with large budgets, according to Executive Director Harry Griffith. The businesses were chosen based on the top 60 employers in the valley, including Power Engineers, Smith Optics and St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center.

The general public was invited to weigh in at Sustain Blaine's regular meeting on Wednesday, using handheld "clicker" devices that recorded the users' answers to polling questions.

The poll followed an economic presentation by Griffith, who estimated that Friedman Memorial Airport annually brought between $143 million and $370 million to the valley, via visitor spending and jobs.

While the meeting saw only 26 participants, far fewer than the number of businesses invited to the first forum, some notable differences appeared between the two sets of data.

Fifty-six percent of the individuals present said they would relocate or close down if commercial air service ceased at Friedman, but 31 percent reported they would see no impact at all. Griffith still said he was interested in the impact of the 56 percent, however.

"To me, that's the interesting thing, how this correlates with jobs," he said.

Another difference was the contrast in participants who described the airport as "critical" to their businesses.

While 65 percent of the business owners last week agreed with the statement that the airport was critical to their economic health, only 44 percent agreed during the latest session—and 20 percent said the airport had no impact on their economic health, as opposed to 2 percent during the last session.

But like last week, participants cast doubt on the value of the polling itself. Guy Cherp, vice president of Sun Valley operations for Cox Communications, suggested that the total of just over 70 participants is not enough to draw conclusions from the data collected.

Ketchum resident Dave Theobold said he'd be more interested in what valley residents, not businesses, had to say about the importance of the airport.

"If it's critical for businesses, I've got to believe it's even more critical for individuals," he said.

Griffith said his organization has considered putting the poll questions online, and that city councils are welcome to rent the "clicker" sets and conduct their own polls—at a cost of roughly $1,000 per 110 devices.

No further polling sessions have been scheduled, but Griffith said the results from both last week's and this week's forums will be posted online shortly.

In addition, he said he hopes to conduct more analysis in the next few weeks to determine which types of businesses rely on the airport the most and whether location affects opinion.

"Stay tuned," he said.

Katherine Wutz:

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