Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Events are big business in valley

Visitors give a boost to Blaine County’s economy

Express Staff Writer

The beautiful natural terrain and exclusive mystique of the Sun Valley area make it an ideal location for seasonal events. If you like to ride, glide, dance, eat or drink, chances are there is an annual summer or fall event in the Wood River Valley to suit your tastes.
    By the Fourth of July, the area is bustling with parades, rodeos, arts and crafts fairs and concerts. During the winter months, from November to May, there are fewer events. Two notables are the Nordic Town USA Festival and Janss Cup, which bring in hundreds of participants.
    According to data compiled and analyzed by Sustain Blaine, a local economic development group, the 25 or so major events that take place here each year provide a profound benefit to the local economy.
    For example in 2011, about 94,000 people attended 16 “marquee” events in the north and south valley. Such events have been established for a number of years, but do not include numerous small conventions, weddings, concerts and other gatherings that may take place each year.
    An analysis of these marquee events conducted by Sustain Blaine showed that their direct and indirect economic impacts totaled $41 million in 2011. Each averaged $2.9 million in total impact.
    Sustain Blaine separated the events into three general categories: Sports and Recreation events, such as Nordic Town USA; Arts and Culture events, such as the Sun Valley Summer Symphony and the Hailey Rodeo; and Conventions, such as the Allen and Co. media and technology conference.
    The Sun Valley Summer Symphony is a huge draw with 16 days of concerts over 30 days and provides the largest total economic benefit of all events, the data suggests.
    Wagon Days, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival and the Sun Valley Writers Conference trail the symphony in terms of the total number of event days (one person per day per event). However, Wagon Days and Trailing of the Sheep have the most registered participants.

“We also need more winter events, like a national alpine skiing championship.”
Harry Griffith
Sustain Blaine

    When it comes to direct infusions of cash, Allen and Co., the Sun Valley Writers Conference, and the Sun Valley Center for the Arts Wine Auction are the biggest producers. That’s because these events command high entry fees. Also, in some cases, the events keep attendees in town long enough to spend money, thereby kicking in the so-called “multiplier effect,” the changing of hands of dollars within a community that exponentially increases their total economic impact.
    The Allen and Co. conference, which draws dozens of the wealthiest people in the world, brings in a total of about $2.2 million in direct spending, on jet fuel, hotel rooms and tours, as well as wages for about 200 workers. But Allen and Co. has limited residual effect on the local economy because participants don’t come here specifically to shop, eat and play. They spend most of their time in meetings at Sun Valley Resort.
    By contrast, the Nordic Festival, which was expanded recently to a four-day series of races including the Boulder Mountain Tour cross-country ski race, provides direct spending impacts of only $100,000. Yet, the festival draws hundreds of families who stay for several days and spend at restaurants, bars, and shops. This means the cumulative total economic impact of the Nordic Festival is almost equal to the impact of Allen and Co.
    Sustain Blaine Executive Director Harry Griffith, who compiled the data, found that events exist within a “sweet spot,” of highest value to the community when they show both high participation and high spending per participant.
    Sweet-spot events include the Sun Valley Center Wine Auction, which spends the money it raises each year on cultural events and education, and the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, which offers free admission, but spawns bonus economic activity by keeping people in town for several weeks each summer.
    Based on his research, Griffith said the greatest opportunities for new economic development exist during the shoulder seasons of early summer and late fall, when the weather can accommodate crowds, and the calendar is relatively clear.
    “We also need more winter events, like a national alpine skiing championship or a paralympic skiing event, which could take advantage of the area’s designation as a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site,” he said.
     Griffith also recommends creating an “event incubator” organization to help cities create new events to complement existing events, rather than doubling up events on the same weekends. He said such an organization could also draw established events from other regions to the Wood River Valley.
    Griffith is updating the events analysis for 2012 and 2013. It will include new events like the Sun Valley Film Festival. He said he hopes to release the update soon.

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