Blaine County (ID) – Countywide Economic Development Strategy

ChallengeBlaine County, Idaho, is best known for Sun Valley Ski Resort, making the area a skier’s and outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. As a result, the county’s economy has traditionally been heavily reliant on tourism. A major transition has occurred in its economy of the last decade, as many one-time tourists began to reach retirement age and invested in second homes in the northern half of the county. Partly as a result of this influx of wealthy retirees and other investors, the county has experienced a dramatic increase in the cost of land and housing, placing homes out of reach for much of the county’s year-round population. This has made recruiting talent – particularly young workers – difficult for area businesses. It also has contributed to changing commuting patterns, increasing traffic volumes, and stagnating retail sales. This shift away from tourism toward the more speculative construction and real estate sectors made the local economy unbalanced and vulnerable. During the last year, economic activity throughout Blaine County has slowed substantially as the local real estate bubble burst and the national recession is placing a damper on tourism. Beyond the immediate challenge of economic recovery, the area’s long-term goal is to develop a balanced and sustainable economy, which leverages and protects its natural resources while also providing opportunities for attracting talent through innovation and job creation.

ApproachTo address these challenges, Sustain Blaine, a regional cooperative alliance of public and private organizations in Blaine County, hired TIP to develop a countywide economic strategy. To accomplish this, TIP conducted an in-depth economic and demographic assessment; held focus group meetings and stakeholder interviews; held several public forums and workshops; and solicited community feedback through an online questionnaire. These activities provided the basis for a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis and will provide the foundation for the economic strategy. Once Blaine County’s opportunities were assessed, TIP conducted research on various benchmarks to provide best practice lessons on how the community could take advantage of its assets.

OutcomeThe resulting plan identified five primary goals to support economic development, including (1) leveraging the Sun Valley “brand;” (2) focusing real estate development opportunities to support economic diversification; (3) supporting small business and entrepreneurs; (4) establishing an institute for design; and (5) creating a countywide organization to implement the plan. Since the delivery of the plan in July 2009, Sustain Blaine has begun to transition from a loose coalition of citizen volunteers to a more formal structure able to implement the GoBlaine! strategy. Thus far, several local entities have passed a resolution in support of the plan, including the Sun Valley City Council, the Wood River Economic Partnership, Mountain Rides, ARCH Community Housing Trust, and the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau Board.

TIP Contact Jon Roberts

Work Sample An electronic copy of the final deliverable is available at the following link.

Photo credit Greg L. Wright