“Tourism, tourism, tourism” is the steady mantra of many valley residents. Recently, an Idaho Mountain Express editorial (“False choice,” April 17, 2019) claimed, “Ketchum’s economy is solely reliant on tourism.” A guest opinion (“Don’t kill the golden goose,” April 19, 2019) warned Ketchum to budget more money for the “golden goose” of tourism, saying “I hope … one day we … realize that the Sun Valley area is … a place that relies on visitors for a good economy.” They spend their money here and then “go home, leaving behind a local economy that’s much stronger.”
It’s slack time now. Look around. You’ll see empty streets, empty stores, empty restaurants, empty houses, empty condos. A friend’s daughter lives in an Elkhorn building with 18 units. Right now, 17 are empty; she is the only full-time resident. Does this look like a strong economy?
Tourism does provide income—and has since the resort’s birth in 1936—but not enough for year-round prosperity. We have been told repeatedly by economic development consultants (seven studies from 2000-2010) that founding our economic base on one niche—tourism—is a bad strategy. Simply attracting visitors for their dollars could eventually leave us bankrupt. Instead, we need to adopt a more reliable, productive, non-cyclical, sustaining, community-agreed-upon economic strategy that will stimulate broad business growth, maintain the valley’s authentic, family-friendly reputation and achieve year-round economic stability.
A 2001 economic analysis of Blaine County reported that one-third (29 percent) of the county’s income (not the two-thirds quoted in the guest opinion) derives from short-term visitors and second-home owners. The other two-thirds derive from the owners of small businesses who rely primarily on year-round community patrons or nationally or globally dispersed clients. Instead, public and private funds should be directed toward supporting the growth and diversity of our small business economy, including “gig economy” workers. This is the path to economic sustainability. The golden goose is not tourism: it’s Main Street.
Jima Rice, Blaine County