Jobs were the main topic of concern at a state legislators' forum on Saturday, as some attendees said they were desperate to see the valley create jobs so their children could stay in the area.
"I want someone to tell me what I can do to make this valley better," said Bill Pereira, Bellevue resident and owner of Big Chief Organics landscaping.
He said he's seen his children leave because they simply can't live on the $8-per-hour jobs they were able to get in the Wood River Valley.
Reps. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and Donna Pence, D-Gooding, joined Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, at the forum in Belevue, and were tasked with explaining how they had tried to help boost the job market during this last legislative session.
Jaquet—whose son was just hired as a chief marketing officer for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association in Park City, Utah—said a bill passed by the Legislature would help boost the depressed construction industry. It provides an income tax deduction for homeowners who make energy-efficiency improvements—such as better insulation or more airtight windows—on homes built before 2002.
"The biggest sector in the state that has been hurt is the construction sector," she said. "Let's say I put new windows in my house—maybe I hire an unemployed contractor to do it, and I can deduct it [from my income taxes]."
Jaquet also pointed out that the Sustain Blaine economic development group is working to form a culinary institute and has been working to have Sun Valley named as a designated Olympic training site for Nordic skiing. As the valley's economy does depend on tourism, Jaquet said, Executive Director Harry Griffith's work in these areas could help create jobs.
"But, as you said, those are a lot of $8 jobs," she said.
Bellevue Fire Chief Greg Beaver said he would take any jobs coming into the valley as a sign of economic improvement. He said his children also moved out of the area to seek employment.
Jaquet and Stennett said they have noticed Sun Valley's stock going up, especially in the relative lack of a slack season. Though town activity still dips between ski season and summer, both lawmakers said it's nothing like it was 20 years ago. Even summer, Jaquet said, wasn't very busy.
"I used to walk around on the Fourth of July [as director of the Ketchum Chamber of Commerce] and be depressed about the job I wasn't doing," she said.
Both also agreed that the key to boosting valley business might be to try and convince recreation-minded business owners to relocate to Sun Valley. Jaquet pointed out that Marketron and Idaho Biosciences moved here because the owners had come here to ski.
"It seems smart to talk about people who come here for other reasons who might want to bring a business here," she said.
But that means bringing in more tourists, and Pereira said he was unsatisfied with the way Sun Valley Co. reacted to being the only regional resort with sufficient snow—albeit partially manmade—for much of the winter.
"It's a bit of an embarrassment to have a chamber that can't react quickly enough to say, 'Hey, we're the only people with snow!'" he said, referring to the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance.
For Beaver, though, the solution may lie in other arenas.
"We need one of those big-box stores that would employ thousands of people," he said. "Yeah, they might be $8 jobs, but it's better than unemployment."
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org