Communities in the Wood River Valley are more than collections of homes. They are collections of people who traded mainline careers and higher incomes for access to hiking trails and the sight of the twinkling lights of the Milky Way.

To them, rocky paths are more important than pensions. They volunteer for community events. Some rescue people from misadventures. Others create art in places where art was once scarce.

They build businesses on dreams and credit cards. They are elected officials who organize public services and have kept its hillsides and views from being destroyed.

They are the bedrock of our communities. Yet, economic forces at work today could make them an endangered species.

Every business located within the valley depends on tourism, even if indirectly. This means the economy is fragile. Even so, the area has survived rampaging inflation, recessions, a major financial crash, years of drought, three major wildfires and smoke from other blazes in the West.

Now it is facing a battering from wealth transfers, the short-term vacation rental industry and the failure of local governments to protect workforce housing.

This triumvirate of forces has created the problem that is staring the area in the face: the lack of housing for middle-income families that depend on the local economy. Jobs are numerous. Workers with a place to live are scarce.

The influx of COVID-19 refugees brought the problem to a head, and it shows no signs of abating.

If housing remains scarce, if citizens continue to make downtown parking places more important than people, the consequences will be stark.

Local businesses will be unable to afford to pay employees enough to shoulder sky-high local rents and housing prices.

It’s unlikely that they will be able to convince workers that a two-hour daily commute from distant, but more affordable places is worth it. After all, even low wages used to come with the perk of exploring mountains on days off.

If local operations can’t get enough employees, they will have no choice but to cut hours, cut services—or close.

It’s fair to ask those whose first priority is parking and who want to put affordable housing in the “right place,” which seems to be somewhere on the moon, what else they favor.

Do they favor doctors, nurses, pharmacists, teachers, lawyers, accountants and other professionals? Do they favor ski-lift operators, auto mechanics, chefs and wait staffers? Do they favor retailers? All of them need workforce housing.

Or, will they favor parking over people?

What the valley will become is riding on the answer.


“Our View” represents the opinion of the newspaper editorial board, which is made up of members of its board of directors. Remarks may be directed to editorialboard@mtexpress.com.

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