Mining and ranching were critical industries in the history of the Wood River Valley, but today, tourism and leisure are the key drivers of the local economy. Since its inception in 1936, Sun Valley Resort has marketed the area’s stunning mountain scenery, clean air and water, and plentiful winter snow to the rest of the U.S. and beyond. The 2017–2018 season drew 380,000 skiers to Sun Valley. These and other visitors accounted for 78 percent of the region’s $1.8 billion local gross domestic product (GDP), according to Sun Valley Economic Development.
Lodging has a $559 million total economic impact on the area, or 31 percent of total GDP. This includes the direct impact of the cost of lodging and spending on food, entertainment and other items. Sun Valley Resort employs roughly 1,000 people, with somewhat higher numbers during the busy winter ski season and summer months. The resort offers lodging at the recently remodeled Sun Valley Lodge (94 rooms) and Sun Valley Inn (105 rooms), along with skiing, golfing, fitness facilities, a world-class spa, and shopping. The resort has attracted other hotels to the area, including the new Limelight Hotel (99 rooms), which opened in December 2016.
Second Home Development
Blaine County’s 4,766 seasonal housing units contribute even more to the local economy, with a total economic impact of $650 million, or 36 percent of the total GDP in 2014. These second homeown- ers spend money on construction, home maintenance, furnishings and various other services. Second homes in the area range from modest condominiums to multimillion-dollar mansions.
The Other Economy
The remaining $395 million in GDP includes agriculture, manufacturing and service industries with a national market. Such businesses include Power Engineers, which employs more than 250 people in Hailey and provides consulting services and engineering design in energy, food and beverage, facilities, communications, environmental, and federal markets. Marketron offers innovative software solutions for the media industry and employs 50 locally. Most local manufacturing industries are small, with fewer than 50 employees each. There are 186 farms in Blaine County, with 109 providing the primary livelihood for the owner. The Wood River Valley’s agricultural products had a market value of $38,572,000 in 2012, consisting primarily of beef, hay and barley.
According to the Idaho Department of Labor, non-agricultural employment in Blaine County totaled 11,265 in 2016. Unemploy- ment totaled 330 for an unemployment rate of 2.8%. The largest employment sector was in leisure/hospitality with 25% of total employment. Rounding out the top five employment sectors are utilities and transportation (15%), professional and business ser- vices (14%), construction (13%), and government (12%). Direct full-time and part-time agricultural employment by the county’s ranches and farms was estimated to be 392 in 2012 by the U.S. Census of Agriculture.
(2015 pop.: 21,592) is in south-central Idaho, about 65 miles north of Twin Falls. Created in 1895 from part of Alturas County, Blaine County covers 2,661 square miles and stretches from the Salmon River drainage in the north to the Snake River in the south. The central and most populous part of the county, known as the Wood River Valley, is part of the Big Wood River drainage. Idaho State Highway 75 runs north-south through the heart of the county. the cities within Blaine County are Bellevue, hailey, Ketchum, and Sun Valley.
2015 pop.: 2,300) is one of the Wood River Valley’s smaller communities, located approximately two miles south of Hailey. Founded in 1882, Bellevue is the agricultural center of Blaine County.
(2015 pop.: 8,134) is Blaine County’s largest city and county seat. Founded in 1882, it was one of three cities in the running for state capital when Idaho gained statehood in 1890, (Boise ultimately 529 received the honor). Hailey is home to Friedman Memorial Airport and Wood River High School and Middle School, and is an important economic engine in Blaine County.
(2015 pop.: 2,728) is a major tourist destination and commercial center adjacent to Sun Valley. Situated 12 miles north of Hailey, Ketchum is home to Sun Valley Resort’s Warm Springs and River Run lodges as well as the private Community School, The Community Library and the Wood River YMCA. Reflecting its mining history, the city was originally named “Leadville” when founded in 1888.
(2015 pop.: 1,422) is the city made famous by Sun Valley Resort— the nation’s first destination ski resort. The resort’s primary ski areas are Bald Mountain (9,150ft.) and Dollar Mountain (6,638 ft.) The city of Sun Valley was incorporated in 1947, 11 years after the resort opened in 1936.