Blaine County, Idaho, experienced a dramatic increase in the cost of land and housing in the years leading up to the 2007–2008 recession. Although the county’s rising costs were, in part, a reflection of the increase in speculative construction seen nationally at the time, conditions in the region were exacerbated by an influx of wealthy retirees and other investors. In addition to placing homes out of reach for much of the county’s year-round population, the real estate “bubble” made the local economy unbalanced and vulnerable. Economic activity in the county slowed substantially as the local real estate bubble burst and the national downturn placed a damper on the area’s main economic engine: tourism.
Sustain Blaine, a regional cooperative alliance of public and private organizations in Blaine County, hired TIP to develop a countywide economic strategy. Beyond the immediate challenge of developing a balanced and sustainable economy, local leaders sought to protect the county’s natural resources while also providing opportunities for attracting talent through innovation and job creation. The resulting plan identified five primary goals to support economic development, including leveraging the Sun Valley “brand,” focusing real estate development opportunities to drive economic diversification, supporting small business and entrepreneurs, establishing an institute for design, and creating a countywide organization to implement the plan. Following delivery of the plan in July 2009, Sustain Blaine transitioned from a loose coalition of citizen volunteers to a more formal structure designed to implement the GoBlaine! strategy. Several local entities passed a resolution in support of the plan at that time, 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.