Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Economic growth rate accelerates here

But local business remains well below peak years


By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer

This graphic shows the total annual sales in Blaine County in recent years. Courtesy graphic

    Based on recent economic trends, 2014 should be a better year for local business, Harry Griffith, executive director of Sun Valley Economic Development, told people attending an economic forum hosted by the group Thursday, March 20.
    Formerly called Sustain Blaine, the recently renamed organization presented its quarterly economic update at The Community Library in Ketchum to an audience of about 70 people. Griffith, Visit Sun Valley Executive Director Arlene Schieven and Sun Valley Economic Development board member Steve LeFaivre provided data on the state of the local economy in 2013 related to retail sales, hotel occupancy, real estate and air travel.
    Griffith presented sales data gathered by the Idaho Department of Taxation that showed a growth rate accelerating from 1.7 percent in 2012 to 2.3 percent in 2013. Total sales in Blaine County are still well below a high of $885 million in 2008, but are climbing from a recent low of $628 million in 2010 to $667 million in 2013.
    “The big picture here is that the economy is feeling stronger,” Griffith said. “It’s not leaping out of the gate, but my belief is that 2014 is going to be a better year.”
    He said enplanements at Friedman Memorial Airport during the first two months of 2014 are up 19 percent over the first two months of 2013. United Airlines inaugurated nonstop service between Sun Valley and San Francisco in December and Delta replaced its 28-seat turboprop planes with 65-seat regional jets for its Salt Lake City flights in early January.
    Griffith also presented data showing an apparent $42 million impact to local sales as a result of the Beaver Creek Fire last August. Third-quarter sales in 2013 were down 23 percent over the same quarter in 2012.
    He said hotel occupancy for the first two months of 2014 is down 1 percent from the same period last year.
    “That’s not surprising, given the weather,” he said, referring to the lack of snowfall in December and January.
    Addressing the real estate market, Griffith said that even though average home prices have been on a steady decline since 2006, a 34 percent increase in median (mid-point) price since last year, from $228,000 to $305,000, is due to a decrease in distressed sales. He said the slight decrease in the average home price between 2012 and 2013, which dropped to about $480,000, is due mainly to fewer high-end sales.
    “I don’t think we’ll ever get back to the glory years,” he said. “I think that’s a one-time bubble.”
    Schieven informed the audience that 308,400 people visited the Sun Valley area last year, for a total of 1.26 million visitor days. She said 55 percent of those visitors came during the summer half of the year and 45 percent during the winter half.
    She said hotel occupancy rates and interviews on Baldy and at the airport indicate that 22 percent of those people were day visitors, 47 percent stayed in hotels or condos, 20 percent stayed with friends and 11 percent have vacation homes here.
Greg Moore: gmoore@mtexpress.com




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