Thursday, June 24, 2021
Sun Valley’s Population Explodes During Pandemic Year
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Construction workers are busy trying to provide new homes for new residents of the Wood River Valley.
   
Friday, May 14, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Blaine County gained as many new residents this past year as the previous seven combined, according to data collected by Sun Valley Economic Development.

Population increased by seven percent, compared with an average 1 percent growth over the past 20 years, SVED’s David Patrie told those attending Visit Sun Valley’s spring meeting on Wednesday.

Patrie says the picture is incomplete and that SVED is trying to sort it all out. But here’s what we do know:

  • There are at least 1,300 new residents in Blaine county that are voting and driving here. Assuming 20 percent of those has a child, that’s at least 1,500 new residents.
  • The DMV issued 923 new licenses to people from 48 states this past year. That does not include people who moved here from Boise and other parts of the state. Getting a driver’s license means these people are probably planning to stay, Patrie said.
  • New driver’s licenses were issued to 326 Californians, 126 Washingtonians, 61 Oregonians, 49 Coloradans, 31 Utahns and 25 Nevadans, among others. The only two states not represented were North Dakota and Rhode Island.

    Seventy percent of them were 61 and older.

  • There was 3,770 new voter registrations, compared with 1,640 in 2016—the last presidential election. That’s a 130 percent increase, Patrie said.
  • The traffic count north of Ketchum increased 30 percent during the past year, according to an Idaho Transportation Department traffic counter. That indicates that many of the newer residents are concentrated in the North Valley, Patrie said.

    In contrast, the traffic count was down 4 percent north of Hailey, and Lincoln County showed a 2 percent reduction in traffic as more people worked from home and stayed home during the shelter-in-place order.

  • General aviation remained strong despite the cancellation of Allen & Company in July 2020. It was up 14 percent, indicating that a lot of those who moved here during the past year or used Sun valley as a base during pandemic lockdowns elsewhere were affluent.

REAL ESTATE

Real estate is off the charts with 800 new purchases during the past year and the frenzy appears to be sustainable. But it’s becoming harder for low- and middle-income workers to find housing as the inventory of housing below $450,000 has decreased, Patrie said.

The sale of houses costing $3 million and more increased 247 percent; $1-3 million, up 67 percent; $450,000-$1 million, up 40 percent; $275,000 to $450,000, down 3 percent, and $275,000 and under, minus 38 percent.

The number of new homeowner’s exemptions, indicating people are using their new homes as primary residence, was 179. The majority are from Boise or Idaho Falls, followed by former residents of California and Oregon.

There were 29 states represented in the homeowner’s exemption group, which indicates that it’s a geographically diverse group of people coming here.

Vacant land sales are up 112 percent as the inventory for homes has run out.

OCCUPANCY RATE

The short-term rentals occupancy rate was up 37 percent from April 2020 to March 2021. But the number of listings was down 15 percent. That indicates that people who have investment properties or second homes took them off the market as they camped out here themselves.

BUSINESS IS IMPROVING

A lot of businesses, such as outdoor shops, saw business boom during the pandemic year while others struggled. We are starting to see things return to pre-COVID levels, Patrie said.

AIR TRAFFIC RETURNING TO RESORTS

Enplanements were down 68 percent from April to December 2020 with Friedman Memorial Airport all but closed for a couple months. But enplanements were 90 percent of what they were in 2019 from January to March 2021, indicating that recovery is happening.

Nationally, commercial air enplanements are still below 50 percent so resorts are leading the way.

BANNER SEASON FOR SUN VALLEY

Sun Valley Resort had a banner season, thanks to several factors: Not requiring reservations for skiers. The Epic Pass partnership. And being named the No. 1 ski resort in North America by Ski Magazine.

It also had an amiable snowfall cycle and the word got out that Sun Valley had snow, said Scott Fortner, Visit Sun Valley’s director.

Sun Valley took a hit with corporate conventions all but nonexistent. But that’s not bad considering some ski resorts worldwide did not open and many fared far worse than Sun Valley.

Lot collections were up 35 percent November through March versus 2018-19.

Enplanements were down 21 percent during that time but traffic counts were up 52 percent.

Even now, Fortner said, lack of confidence in air travel is pushing people to travel by car. And when you drive 12 to 15 hours you’re probably going to stay longer, he said.

Room nights sold were: Minus 32 percent in November, Minus 20 in December, Minus 11 in January, Minus 7 in February, Minus 5 in March and Minus 21 in April as the area saw more people from Salt Lake City, Boise and Twin Falls.

THE LOOK AHEAD

There’s a lot of pent-up demand after a year of being holed up at home and a lot of air miles need to be redeemed. With entertainment and travel spending drastically reduced, many people are sitting on extra cash they’re ready to spend.

Escaping the city for fresh mountain air at the top of many travelers’ lists. And events, such as the Sun Valley Wellness Festival, are rebounding.

In addition, traveler confidence is up with the reduction in COVID-19 cases and the rise in vaccinations.

Friedman Memorial Airport’s nonstop flight service will kick off the first week of June this year, rather than the third.

THE PROBLEM

Newcomers don’t understand daily norms and some locals are reacting negatively to the  idea of sharing their recreational space.

Lack of home inventory and increased rental prices has pinched living opportunities.

There’s a workforce shortage, especially for those in the service industry.

To address these problems, Visit Sun Valley may revisit its campaign about “What We’re Made Of” coupled with its recent “Mindfulness in the Mountain” campaign.

We want Sun Valley to remain welcoming to our tourists and we want our tourists to help keep the place special and appreciate what Sun Valley has to offer, not try to change it to suit the tastes of wherever they came from, whether fast food chains or Uber gridlock, Visit Sun Valley officials said.

“We’re the stewards of our community and we’re the chefs,” added Patrie. “If we understand our ingredients, we can take something that doesn’t look good on its face and turn it into something sweet.”

 

 

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