Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Surviving without Smith, among other things

Nonprofit leader talks entrepreneurship, growth in the valley

Express Staff Writer

    Cultivating young entrepreneurs and developing recreational opportunities for snow athletes are two major goals of the nonprofit Sun Valley Economic Development group.
    Organization President Harry Griffith gave his biannual report at a Sun Valley City Council meeting Thursday, Oct. 2. Griffith and Mayor Dewayne Briscoe, in particular, discussed the rapidly changing demographic and economic landscape of Sun Valley.
    As an advocate for business in the Wood River Valley, Sun Valley Economic Development is working on numerous fronts: information gathering for Fly Sun Valley Alliance, finding a location for the planned Sun Valley Culinarium, developing Olympic and Paralympic training sites and finding ways to keep Smith Optics a local business.
    The last item might be difficult, however. The longtime snow-sports and sunglasses company is in the midst of a location study, brought upon it by its Italian management team, which could easily move the company out of Ketchum and into a less isolated marketplace.
    Griffith said Sun Valley Economic Development is working with new hotel developers and potential incoming businesses to secure tax incentives contingent upon job growth. However, he said, the Idaho Department of Commerce credit program doesn’t reward existing businesses. With the final operations of Scott Sports, another locally grown sports outfitter, coming to an end, Griffith did say his organization has a working group to retain Smith.
    Briscoe said the economic circumstances in the valley are stark, especially when compared to other resort towns.
    “Driving to Aspen, it’s like there’s never been a recession,” Briscoe said. “We can’t cure our remoteness, if that’s being held against us.”
    Economic resiliency is the theme of today’s Economic Summit at the Sun Valley Inn. Keynote speaker Bob Dixson is the mayor of Greensburg, Kan., a town that was all but flattened by a devastating tornado in 2007. Just a few years later, the town decided to rebuild “green” with LEED-certified buildings, wind turbines and green living initiatives.
    “We’ve had an economic disaster,” Briscoe said, referring to the relevance of choosing Dixson as speaker.  
    Sun Valley Economic Development is also in talks with Idaho Power Co. about a potential community solar project, Griffith said. Going green isn’t just sustainable—it can be economical, as Greensburg proved.
    “Part of the discussion we’re having [is] the model of a community project that improves the sustainability and reliability of the electrical grid,” Griffith said. “We’re paying attention to the redundant power line [talks] as well.”
    While Smith wouldn’t be able to capitalize on the Department of Commerce incentives, two burgeoning Ketchum hotel projects would, Griffith said. Two new hotels planned to go up, an Auberge Resort in Ketchum and the Bald Mountain Lodge, could get up to 30 percent in tax rebates. To receive the reimbursements, he said, new businesses just need to generate 20 jobs over a 15-year period.

We can’t cure our remoteness, if that’s being held against us.”
Dewayne Briscoe
Sun Valley mayor

    With tens of millions of dollars invested in each hotel, both would create a combined 200 jobs, so getting the incentive wouldn’t be a problem, Griffith said.
    Should Smith leave the valley, Griffith said, all is not lost.
    With a talented area workforce and an empty office space, he said his organization is “ready for a turnkey opportunity” for other regional businesses that might want to leave a big city like Salt Lake City.
    Also on the radar for Sun Valley Economic Development is encouraging more mentor-mentee relationships, which are incubated within the Ketchum Innovation Center. The organization has integrated with the former Wood River Economic Partnership this summer and is “firing with all cylinders,” Griffith said.   

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