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See What’s Selling ‘Like Hotcakes’ in the Wood River Valley
Friday, September 8, 2017


They’d come to learn about the state of Blaine County’s economy.

But the quarterly meeting of the Sun Valley Economic Development hadn’t even gotten underway when attendees began grousing about a familiar subject—lack of housing for middle-income workers.

“People think we’re talking about welfare housing. No, we’re talking about affordable condos and townhouses,” said Safe Heaven Director Scott Burpee to Neil Bradshaw, who’s running for mayor of Ketchum. “Right now people are backed up two miles from the southernmost stop light in Hailey to the Country Store in Bellevue because they’ve got to commute from outside the valley.”

“The only way to get year-round vibrancy is to have year-round housing,” he added.

Once the meeting got underway, attendees listened politely as SVED Director Harry Griffith presented statistics regarding economic growth, wages and jobs in Blaine County.

But talk soon turned again to the need for more living space.

A quarter of Safe Haven’s assistive living care facility’s labor force comes from Burley and Twin Falls, Burpee noted.

“Labor is flat out limiting our growth,” he added. “If I don’t get labor, I scale everything back. And that’s what you bump up against all the time, whether you’re running a bar, an assistive care facility or opening the new Silver Creek Hotel.”

Steve Mills noted that Webb Landscaping is losing a significant amount of sales because it can’t hire enough people. The reason, he said, is because potential employees can’t find places to rent or buy.

Blaine County School Superintendent Gwen Carol Holmes added that a large number of teachers are getting close to retirement. But they’re not selling their homes because they’re going to stay here. So the school district needs to find housing for new teachers if they’re to fill those positions.

Inability to hire enough workers limits guests’ experience, too, added John Curnow, who oversees the new Limelight Hotel. “And, when that happens, we’re going to lose that guest.”

Since its last Economic Development Summit in Fall 2016, the SVED has identified 63 potential housing projects, Griffith said. Some are happening. Some could take place in the future. And some will never happen.

The organization has been looking at public policies that could encourage need housing.

Inclusionary zoning would not work here. But dual density could work, he said.

Inclusionary zoning, for instance, wouldn’t work for this year. But dual density, which involves increasing housing density in specific areas, could work, he said.

The zoning change has so far been limited to Australia. But the SVED has drafted an ordinance it will present to Blaine County commissioners in October.

Griffith added that he is trying to determine why development has stalled in the McHanville/light industrial zone near St. Luke’s hospital south of Ketchum. There are a number of tools that could be used to prod development there along, including tweaking sewer development costs.

There are several projects with the potential to move forward.

Those near Bellevue include Southland, which offers the possibility of employee housing; Big Valley near Gannett Road, and Strahan, where 200 units could be built.

Those around Hailey include SORD, the Peregrine Ranch and Quigley Farm, where developer Dave Hennessy has expressed the desire to include affordable and middle-income housing.

The Bellevue comp plan now allows for multi-family dwellings, which is a “huge” development, he said.

Homes under a half-million dollars--like the 800- to 1,100-square-foot homes in the Cutter’s neighborhood in Hailey--“are selling like hotcakes” to teachers, firefighters, construction mangers and others. Two-bedroom homes with unattached garages are going for $292,000 and three-bedroom homes for $329,000.

People like the feel of community the neighborhood offers, he said.

Griffith said that there are currently about 50 building permits issued each year for homes costing less than $500,000. He'd like to double that.

He cautioned that if all the proposed housing came together tomorrow, the real estate market “would suck” for 10 years because there would be too much supply. That happened when the 190-unit Balmoral Apartments came into play.

Housing will be one of the focal points at the SVED’s Economic Summit from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, at Sun Valley’s Limelight Room. The conference “National Trends-Local Responses” will look at factors that could affect our future economy.

National experts will be brought in to discuss such things as just how much Airbnb could affect the local market by taking units that could be rented by employees off the market in favor of renting them out to tourists.

While housing remains problematic other aspects of life in Blaine County seem to be enjoying modest gains, Griffith said:


The economy increased modestly in 2016 ranging from 1 percent growth in Ketchum to 3.2 percent in Bellevue and Carey. And the first half of 2017 was better than the first half of 2016, said Griffith, who just got the stats for that time period.

The statistics reflect service, wholesale manufacturing tourism and retail shops, such as the ski shops. They do not include franchises, such as McDonald’s in Hailey or NAPA Auto Parts. And they do not include real estate, although it does include title transactions and things of that nature.

All told there was $807 million in reported sales in Blaine County, not including real estate. Sales grew by 1 percent from 2015 to 2016, adjusted for inflation.

Griffith noted that it’s been difficult to get the elected officials from the county and cities to agree on what kind of growth rate they consider desirable.


Blaine County is currently enjoying record low unemployment of 3 perent.

There were 11,920 jobs in the county in 2016 based on W2 statements and reported earnings.

“There were some increases in new jobs but it’s relatively modest,” Griffith said.

That said, Sun Valley pared 165 jobs over the year before, going from 1,394 jobs to 1,229.

Ketchum gained—from 4,578 to 4,895. Hailey gained—from 4,215 to 4,415. And Bellevue-Carey’s jobs increased from 1,143 to 1,320.


Sun Valley’s wages dropped from $41 million to $30 million, as jobs were cut.

Ketchum had $191 million in wages versus $174 million in 2015. Hailey had $194 million vs. $184 million, and Bellevue and Carey $43 million versus $36 million.

The total GDP looks to be holding steady with the $1.7 billion GDP reported in 2014, Griffth said.

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