Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ketchum’s new department of commerce?

In creating an events commission, the city of Ketchum is now fully engaged as one of the main drivers of commerce in the Sun Valley area.

Management of community events was one of the responsibilities that went begging after the city helped dismantle the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau.

Today, the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance, its visitor center subsidiary and the new community events commission are set to fulfill the three main roles formerly filled by the chamber.

By creating the events commission, the city filled the last gap in tourism promotion critical to the local economy.

The chamber, which had been led by a board of volunteer directors, had styled itself as an incubator that sought to grow and spin off events to independent boards with independent sources of revenue as they grew.

Whether the city will retain management of individual events or spin them off remains to be seen, but it may be wise to keep them under one roof given the difficulties and leadership turnover that organizations that are highly dependent on volunteers often experience.

Of course, that could lead to "mission creep" or a growing governmental department, a fear articulated by Ketchum Councilwoman Nina Jonas.

But what would be so bad about that? The city already provides all kinds of backbone services for residents and businesses. Why not economic services?

In small towns like ours, city governments are the most stable organizations around, and stability is key to consistent and successful economic development.

The state of Idaho has a department of commerce. Why shouldn't the city of Ketchum have the same?

During the Roaring '90s, the city was overwhelmed by its obligation to protect public health, safety and welfare in the face of a building boom the likes of which had never been seen before. It spent lots of money on managing development, which was driving the local economy.

With development stalled, it makes sense for the city to turn its attention and its considerable financial clout to bolstering the local economy in any way it can.

The chamber ran into trouble with city of Sun Valley officials who believed the group spent too much time on Ketchum events and not enough on Sun Valley events. This was one of the issues that precipitated the breakup of the chamber.

The city of Ketchum won't have to fight that political fight if it's spending its own money on events that take place within its borders. And the elected officials who thought the city could do better now have the chance to demonstrate that they can.

The economy depends on it.

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