Events are a multi-million-dollar industry in Blaine County, according to preliminary data from a study of the economic impact of valley events presented at the Sustain Blaine Economic Summit on Wednesday.
Sustain Blaine Executive Director Harry Griffith presented a series of data on what he called “signature events” that have been occurring in the Wood River Valley for a number of years.
Though Griffith said he has information on roughly 25 events, he presented data for 16 “marquee events,” including the Sun Valley Symphony, Wagon Days, Trailing of the Sheep, the Sun Valley Writers Conference, the Hailey Fourth of July Rodeo, Allen and Co., the Ketchum Arts Festival, the Sun Valley Center Arts and Crafts Fair, the Sun Valley Wine Auction, Nordic Festival, the Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival, the Sun Valley Wellness Festival and the Sun Valley Harvest Festival.
All the data was from 2011.
Griffith said 94,000 people participated in valley events in 2011. Some events attracted more visitors than locals or second home owners. For example, the Nordic Festival drew mostly visitors, but the Fourth of July Rodeo drew more second home owners.
The real surprise, Griffith said, was the sheer economic impact of the 16 events. Though he said the numbers were only preliminary—more analysis is needed to determine the multiplier effect of the events, which includes things like grocery store employees who may have been able to work extra hours due to increased business—he said that at a conservative estimate, the 16 events brought $48 million to the valley in 2011.
“If you think about it empirically, it’s a pretty big number,” he said in a Thursday interview.
Griffith said he was also surprised by the number of “event days” that the valley had in 2011. Similar to skier days, the “event days” measurement is a cumulative count of the people who participated in an event for part or all of one day, whether using paid or free access.
Overall, events in the valley produced 183,000 event days—compared with 382,128 skier days for the 2011-12 ski season.
Griffith said that number “blew [his] socks off,” but that he sees the opportunity for even more growth in this area. While August showed the highest number of event days, winter and the shoulder seasons were sharply below those numbers.
“We all knew this, but to me, this is an opportunity,” he said. “How do we fill that gap?”
Griffith said he would polish the data and present a final report on events and how to encourage them to city councils later this year.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org
Business owners optimistic
More than 170 business owners at the economic summit Wednesday were polled regarding their feelings on the economy. Most were from Hailey and Ketchum and had fewer than 25 employees, though some were from Sun Valley and some had more than 100 employees.
Fifty-seven percent of those polled said they felt the economy was better today than it was 12 months ago, though 26 percent said they had not seen a change. Fifty-six percent said they felt the activity level of their business has increased, while 15 percent saw no change and 14 percent saw a decrease in business activity.
Griffith said a major change was that 61 percent of those polled said they felt the economy would be stronger next year, while 33 percent said they were neutral on the issue. Griffith said polls earlier this year were not as positive.
Still, 77 percent of business owners polled said the county needs to increase the number of visitors here to improve its economic health. Seventy-four percent said improving air service would be important for improving the county’s economy.