Friday, November 22, 2013

We’re in the entertainment business

    The passage of the local option sales tax for air service checked off two items critical to the economic survival of the area: minimum-revenue guarantees for air service and marketing for the new air routes that may open up to major cities as a result.
    But no one should proclaim “Mission accomplished” just yet. Subsidies for air service are a good start, but they are the first step, not the last, that the area must take to improve the local economy.
    Sun Valley is up against heavy hitters in Colorado and Utah that long ago figured out that their mountain towns are about more than skiing: They are in the entertainment business. Following that insight, they invested in expanding entertainment options and event venues to appeal to a wider swath of interests.
    The city of Vail, for example, spent $2.5 million to build and market special events last summer. The city of Aspen has a special events department.
    Local events are important, but with the exception of Wagon Days, which the city of Ketchum supports and produces with the help of private donations, they are produced largely by underpaid organizers and volunteer boards.
    Local events are hand-to-mouth operations that could die with even a little less care or feeding. Despite these challenges, they have grown, albeit slowly. According to an analysis by Sustain Blaine, the direct and indirect economic impacts of local events totaled $41 million in 2011.
    Not only does the Sun Valley area need to sustain existing events, it needs to create new ones if the area’s economy is to continue to recover. That’s going to require investment, planning and production, which come with costs.
    A few more pancake breakfasts or bake sales won’t do the job. We need to match the number of air seats with sustainable events with broad appeal to draw passengers here on a regular basis. We need to wake up to the fact that we’re in the entertainment business.

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