Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Business forum reveals unhappiness

Mayor holds first meeting between business owners and city

Express Staff Writer

    There is a strong need for more dialogue between the city of Ketchum and its businesses. That was the theme of the first forum between Mayor Nina Jonas and some 70 local business affiliates last Thursday night at the Starbucks coffee shop in Ketchum.
    Led by city representatives Joyce Allgaier and Deb Burns, the audience communicated with the city via a keypad polling system by answering questions posed by Allgaier.
    “The passion for Ketchum, as well as frustration with the current business climate, were the major themes of yesterday’s Business Owners Forum,” Jonas said in a Friday email summarizing the meeting.
    More than three-fourths of the participants were veteran business owners with more than 10 years under their belts, according to the polling information. Polling numbers showed that 40 percent of business owners and employees feel as though communication is worse this year than it was last year. The mayor’s polling data revealed a lack of knowledge about existing business organizations and unhappiness with the city’s communication strategies and follow-through.
    “There’s a lack of action,” one female participant said. “We go to meetings, but nothing changes. Marketing doesn’t make a difference.”
    In response, Allgaier said the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance is a good resource for business owners. Informally called Visit Sun Valley, the organization is a non-government entity that aims to promote and draw visitors to the area. President Arlene Schieven encouraged participants to come to the organization’s meetings and join its email list.

We’re looking for the city to bring the people to us.”
Terry Murphy
Owner of Bellissimo

    Allgaier asked whether businesses were interested in city-run workshops and which types of workshops would be helpful. The three top choices were networking, advocacy and small-business support. However, not all participants felt that city resources would be better spent on tourism and marketing.
    “We’re not looking for workshops,” said Terry Murphy, owner of Bellissimo, a home-décor store. “We’re looking for the city to bring the people to us.”
    Numerous business owners said that organizations such as Visit Sun Valley aren’t capitalizing on the uncharacteristically sunny weather this spring in terms of drawing Idaho residents to the area, especially young people.
    There isn’t much initiative for young people to move to Sun Valley, according to Ryan Kolquist. As a manager of Whiskey Jacques’ restaurant and nightclub, Kolquist said his business could use more help in promoting concerts. He said popular bands draw young people from all over Idaho and there would be a ripple effect on local businesses if the city marketed their events. Other members echoed his sentiment, offering up suggestions to bring back local hot springs and encourage educational initiatives.
    “If we don’t go after the youth, it’s only a matter of time before it’s done,” one male participant said.
    Entrepreneur Jesse Sheue is attempting to open a restaurant in downtown Ketchum, but is bogged down by “red tape.” He said he had to submit a 31-page design-review application to the Planning and Zoning Commission, despite only making minor modifications to the building, and that the time and money required by the design process could sap his resources.
    “It could crush me,” he said.
    Jim Kuehn, part-owner of Whiskey Jacques’, said local businesses are frustrated and that the city should survey all business owners, since only a small percentage was represented at the meeting.
    “There are 65 people here,” he said. “That’s only 10 percent of business permits [held in this town].”
     Jonas said the meeting was the first of many, and that she hopes to hold “roundtable style” discussions with business owners in the near future.
    The meeting was meant to touch base with local businesses in a broader sense, not immediately enact policy changes.
     “I thought it was great opportunity to get them all together,” Schieven said in a phone interview. “That was not a meeting that was intended to be about marketing.”

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