Formed in 2010 with the mission of creating a thriving, diversified economy for the Sun Valley region, Sun Valley Economic Development has been spearheading projects designed to attract new businesses, educate the community about critical business issues and enhance the economic impact of existing assets. Sounds like a tall order.
Last week, The Chamber sat down with executive director, Harry Griffith to learn more about some of the projects he and his team are working on and what are the challenges facing the business community in the Wood River Valley.
TC: Economic Development organizations exist in many regions in the U.S., to facilitate recruitment of new businesses to an area. What do you say to convince companies looking to relocate or entrepreneurs looking to start a business, that this area is the best place to move?
HG: Our area is unique in many ways. The companies we’ll have the most success with recruiting tend to be more technology based, location neutral industries and not necessarily manufacturing oriented. We developed a term several years ago and we like to say we have Quality of Place. Quality of Life can mean different things to different people, but it all starts with Quality of Place. For us, Quality of Place is the nexus of having enough office space or sufficient utilities or broadband along with the social and cultural opportunities to broaden your mind or participate in things that are of interest to you on a personal level.
TC: Are there other communities that you can show as a model of having created the environment you’re hoping to achieve here?
HG: Five years ago, I would have said yes. Unfortunately, some of these early models didn’t address some of the issues we’re seeing now and the result has been the creation of exclusive communities. Boulder Colorado is a great example. Their median home price has nearly doubled in the last five years and that leads to a loss of diversity and a loss of youth. In this type of environment, your workforce tends to live outside the area which means the paychecks leave the area. Our school system is not at capacity, our hospital is not at capacity and our workforce is being forced to move to communities outside the valley. If this continues, we’ll find ourselves in a similar situation.
TC: Middle Income Housing is a hot topic right now. What’s the answer to helping solve this issue?
HG: The reality is that there’s no single answer. Whether it’s creative mixed-use projects or fast-tracking the approvals, one of the key factors will be the need for municipalities to work with developers to make it make sense for everyone. On the zoning side, cities will need to take a look at their densities and height restrictions and find creative ways to help developers build projects that are win-win. One of the emerging trends is smaller, so-called “tiny houses.” We’re not suggesting that yet, but zoning changes to allow starter-sized single-family or duplex units would provide reduced housing costs at lower densities.
TC: As a “back-bone” organization you work with many different groups by helping them all see the big picture. What piece of the overall puzzle is not being addressed?
HG: We have a great group of organizations that are coming together on a regular basis to address many of the issues, but event incubation and support is needed. Events bring visitors to town to support our tourist-based economy and add a much-needed vibrancy. I would like to see The Chamber expand its role in helping the many events in our valley attract even more visitors and to also assist fledgling events develop into some of the Valley’s next annual traditions.