Billionaires with name tags are no longer strolling around Sun Valley Village in casual attire. The reporters from National Public Radio and financial publications have moved on to other hot spots. The shiny, private jets no longer crowd the parking area at Friedman Memorial Airport.
Allen & Co.’s 38th annual conference of the titans of media, technology, finance and sports came to a relatively quiet conclusion last weekend, with numerous guests heading home after the end of organized events on Saturday. By Tuesday, no major acquisitions or mergers—one of the goals of the boutique New York City investment bank hosting the conference—had been revealed. Nonetheless, the so-called “summer camp for billionaires” appeared to be a solid success, after a hiatus last summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft chatting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos strolling toward the Sun Valley Lodge. Apple CEO Tim Cook smiling at reporters. CNN anchor Anderson Cooper arriving in a golf cart. Netflix mogul Reed Hastings sipping on a cold San Pellegrino.
Those were some of the fleeting images of the five-day conference at Sun Valley Resort. In the end, they were much similar to other years. But the pandemic did prompt some changes, and other elements of the Allen & Co. confab have simply evolved.
Notable differences this year reportedly included a requirement that guests be vaccinated against COVID-19. In addition, they were tested for the virus upon arrival. And, they did not bring their children, who in the past have been invited to join in on activities ranging from golf and tennis to fly fishing and whitewater rafting.
In the past, scheduled panel discussions and forums were conducted in the conference center of the Sun Valley Inn. This year, many gatherings were held outdoors, at the Sun Valley Pavilion and at smaller, makeshift sites in the village. Chefs and caterers hosted meals in the green spaces around the Sun Valley Inn.
Over the years, security has heightened significantly. Numerous entry points into Sun Valley Village were blocked by large SUVs manned by security guards with radios. Temporary fencing and hedges cordoned off areas where the guests were gathered. Guards stood by entries into the fenced-off areas, next to signs that read, “Private Function.”
Still, the security appeared not to stifle any of the activity. As guests walked between the center of the village and the Sun Valley Lodge, they smiled at reporters and photographers standing in a designated pen. Some briefly answered questions.
The return of the conference was certainly a welcome occurrence for the resort and other business operators and freelance workers in the Wood River Valley.
Harry Griffith, executive director of the nonprofit organization Sun Valley Economic Development, said an analysis of the economic impact of the conference conducted four years ago placed the value at "north of $3 million" in the five-day span. A full analysis has not been repeated since then, Griffith said, but the figure has almost certainly gone up.
“On a dollars-per-day basis, it’s one of the most valuable events we have,” Griffith said.
Scott Fortner, executive director of the Visit Sun Valley marketing organization, said the conference has a major “downstream effect” outside of Sun Valley Resort, for hotels, restaurants, guides, security workers, caterers and other elements of the Wood River Valley economy.
“That event is well-planned-out and something people can count on,” he said.
In addition, Fortner said, the conference adds to the economy in other ways. Some attendees choose to buy real estate in the area. And Allen & Co. has been a philanthropic partner in the community, he noted.
Last year, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Blaine County, the firm donated $1 million to the St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation, which raises money to support a variety of health-care programs and services in the Wood River Valley.
Meanwhile, the conference also gives valuable media exposure to Sun Valley and the Wood River Valley, Fortner noted. International and national news stories on the event typically portray Sun Valley as an idyllic retreat in the Rocky Mountains, indirectly providing a form of free marketing.
Another successful Allen & Co. conference marks a success for the community as a whole, Fortner said.
“It’s pretty astonishing, the level of service that is provided,” he said. “I think the community should be pretty proud about that.”