It’s the fourth year of economic growth in Blaine County, but the economy was hit by first-quarter losses due to poor snowfall earlier this year, according to a report released July 16 by the Sun Valley Economic Development group.
The report shows data for the first half of 2014. Following the merger of Sun Valley Economic Development with the Wood River Economic Partnership this summer, the two organizations consolidated their board of directors and vision to offer economic solutions for the county, according to the report, and both groups collaborated on the July report.
The results and trends so far this year, according to Sun Valley Economic Development Executive Director Harry Griffith, are “good, bad and indifferent.”
For the past five months, versus the same time span in 2013, Blaine County experienced a 3 percent decline in sales—$293 million to $286 million. The first quarter was down 5 percent, the report indicates, but was bolstered by higher revenues in May and June.
So far in 2014, the highest revenues have come from the same three sectors as 2013—construction, gas stations and motor vehicles. In the retail sector, which has experienced slight growth within the past year, groceries/food, eating/drinking and automotive sales have seen the highest revenues, although eating/drinking has remained at about $26 million for both this year and last.
“Lightning and rain, that puts people in the restaurants and shops.”
Sun Valley Economic Development
Unemployment in the valley has decreased steadily since 2011, dropping from a high of 8.9 percent in 2010 to 5.6 percent in 2013. It’s still high, compared with 2.3 percent in 2008, but the gradual decrease mirrors the small gains made nationwide post-recession.
Doug Brown, executive director of the former WREP, said construction and real estate have yet to bounce back from the 2008 recession—which he says is particularly significant locally due to a dependency on the housing market as a tourist destination.
Compared to the last two years, four out of the five cities in Blaine County saw lower first-quarter sales as compared with 2013 numbers. Only Hailey saw an increase in winter 2013, and it was slight. Brown attributes Hailey’s success to less of a reliance on tourism. He said the lack of snow during the first quarter hit businesses in Ketchum and Sun Valley hard, while Hailey didn’t suffer the same hotel-occupancy and retail woes.
“Depending on what time the snow falls or doesn’t fall, people schedule their trips,” he said in a phone interview. “People that can afford to travel at the last minute—they can pick their destination based on where there’s great skiing.”
He went on to say that weather plays a huge role in the economic success of the north valley—things like fire, snow and even the end-of-summer lightning storms this week weigh heavily on financial returns.
“Lightning and rain, that puts people in the restaurants and shops,” Brown said.
Griffith said an increase this year, topping $5 million, in apparel revenues was a surprise for him, since the valley has lost a number of clothing stores within the year.
Amy Busek: firstname.lastname@example.org