Tourism was the only industry sector in Blaine County that didn’t suffer a loss of jobs from the Great Recession. In fact, the number of tourism jobs in the county actually increased 1.7 percent between 2007 and 2011.
Officially, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Great Recession started in December of 2007 and ended in June of 2009. The nation is now in a period of recovery.
Data on the effects of the recession on jobs, wages, businesses and taxable income in Blaine County has been compiled and analyzed by Sustain Blaine, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to creating a thriving, diversified, year-round economy for the Sun Valley region.” The data came primarily from the Idaho Department of Labor and the Idaho Tax Commission.
According to the data, the number of jobs in Blaine County began to decline in 2008, continued to decline in 2009 and began to level out in 2010. Overall, the Great Recession cost Blaine County a loss of 2,283 jobs, or 16.6 percent of its workforce. The data shows that there were 13,694 jobs in 2007 and 11,411 in 2011.
The biggest economic impact was to the construction industry, which lost 50 percent of its labor force. In 2007 there were 2,551 construction jobs in the county and in 2011 only 1,224.
Other industry sectors, such as retail, education/health, professional, finance and government, are gradually recuperating from the recession, but Harry Griffith, executive director of Sustain Blaine, said the construction industry might never recover.
“We’ve lost a lot of people in the construction trade and they’ve not come back and may never come back,” he said.
While modest gains are being realized in the number of jobs in Blaine County, Griffith said that “wages are still lagging” because many businesses have cut back on the number of full-time employees and because some workers, such as those from the construction trade, are forced to work at lower-paying jobs.
The Sustain Blaine data shows that total wages in the county in 2007 were about $500 million. By 2011, total wages had dropped to around $400 million.
Loss of jobs and wages was also reflected in a decline in the number of businesses operating in Blaine County and in the amount of taxable sales.
Tourism remains the strongest industry sector in Blaine County, with direct jobs in tourism accounting for almost a quarter of the workforce. According to the Sustain Blaine data, there were 2,834 tourism jobs, described in the data as the “leisure/hospitality” industry sector, in 2011. That compares to 2,787 in 2007.
However, Griffith said Sustain Blaine actually estimates the number of workers “heavily reliant” on tourism at 4,000, or 35 percent of the total county workforce. He explained that restaurants, retailers and other businesses employ more workers to meet the needs of visitors.
Blaine County’s tourism industry is somewhat unique in its experience with the Great Recession. Elsewhere in Idaho and the U.S., tourism typically was one of the industries most adversely affected.
So why did Blaine County’s tourism industry mostly escape the economic devastation of the recession? Mainly because of the large number of wealthy people who come to the Sun Valley area, said Bob Fick, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Labor.
“The richest of the rich skated through the recession,” Fick said. “It was the middle-class people who stopped traveling. Other resort towns, such as Lava Hot Springs, that don’t cater to the wealthy, didn’t fare as well. During the Great Recession, millions of people we’re losing their jobs or getting their jobs cut back, losing their homes, and they didn’t have the money to travel.”
An Idaho Department of Labor report issued in May states that tourism is rebounding around the state, but that the industry took one of the largest hits statewide from the recession.
“During the Great Recession, tourism suffered a 17 percent decline in jobs while the rest of the economy suffered losses around 8 percent on average,” the report states. “But as the business cycle matures, tourism has begun growing. The 2.6 percent job growth in tourism during 2012 outperformed the all industry average of 2 percent.”
“We’ve lost a lot of people in the
construction trade and they’ve not come back and may never come back.”
The report states that direct tourism jobs in Idaho in 2012 were about 26,000. However, the industry was responsible for creating another 10,500 indirect jobs.
“As long as the national economy doesn’t slip back into recession, people are going to travel,” Fick said. “As long as people are traveling and they have the money to do so, then jobs are going to stay decent in the sector.”
Other industry sectors
Behind tourism, which directly accounted for 24.8 percent of the county’s workforce in 2011, was the retail industry, employing 1,897 workers, or 16.6 percent of the workforce. Third was an industry sector described as “education/health,” employing 1,701 people, or 14.9 percent.
A category described as “professional services” accounted for 1,338 workers, which computes to 11.7 percent of the workforce. Construction is listed as providing 1,224 jobs in the county in 2011, accounting for 10.7 percent. There were 614 people, or 5.38 percent, employed with government, and 552 people, or 4.8 percent, employed in “finance.” The remainder of the county’s workforce was employed in a category labeled “all others.”
Business and sales
The number of businesses operating in Blaine County declined during the recession, as did taxable sales.
According to the Sustain Blaine data, there were 1,784 businesses operating in the county in 2007, compared to 1,500 in 2011, which computes to a 15.9 percent decline.
The number of businesses lost varies from city to city. The city of Sun Valley, which primarily caters to tourists and convention visitors, actually showed an increase in the number of businesses. In 2007, the city had 64 businesses and in 2011 it had 70.
In Ketchum, the number of businesses declined from 748 in 2007 to 688 in 2011. Hailey saw a lesser decline, with 564 businesses in 2007 compared to 532 in 2011. Bellevue dropped from 212 businesses to 171 and Carey fell from 37 businesses to 28.
Data used by Sustain Blaine from the Idaho Tax Commission shows a decline in taxable sales in Blaine County from 2008 through 2012. However, the data shows that the decline bottomed out in 2010 and taxable sales increased somewhat in 2012, except in Hailey. Griffith said, “There’s no explanation except that Hailey’s Main Street is still struggling.”
Taxable sales in the county’s five cities totaled $884.5 million in 2008. By 2010, taxable sales had dropped to $628 million. The data shows a modest rebound in 2012, with taxable sales at $652 million.
The data also shows that the largest decreases in taxable sales by business sector were in apparel, building supplies and automotive. Farm and garden supplies decreased slightly, while the grocery and food, and the eating and drinking sectors dropped slightly in 2010 but have now rebounded close to 2008 levels.
Holding mainly steady over the five-year period were taxable sales in sporting goods, drug stores and jewelry.
To improve the number of jobs, the number of businesses and taxable sales in Blaine County, Griffith said there are a variety of options.
“I think there are several complimentary things we can do as a community,” he said. “One of them is to improve our tourism base, and the way to deal with that is getting better air service into the community.”
Another step that could be taken, he said, is to “broaden our economic base by drawing businesses that are not necessarily tied to the tourism industry.”
A final step could be to encourage things that are both tourism-related and “location neutral,” such as a culinary institute that has been proposed for the north valley with the College of Southern Idaho.
“Those types of ideas are how we can build our employment base and our economy,” Griffith said.