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Mountain News: Ski towns read the economic tealeaves



KETCHUM, Idaho — It's the season for business conferences as ski town officials huddle to plot their competitive advantages and strategies in the changing world.

In Ketchum and Sun Valley, an economic development group called Sustain Blaine is planning to hear a panel talk about location-neutral companies. Group officials say they get two calls a month from companies interested in relocating their businesses to the Sun Valley area, but only two companies per year end up doing so. What are the barriers to relocation of such businesses? That's what panel members may explain, organizers tell the Idaho Mountain Express.

Also on the agenda in Sun Valley is a talk by Joseph Kasputys, founder of HIS Global Insight, which will probe global and national economies.

In Colorado, something similar is underway in Steamboat Springs. The community already has a more diverse economic base than most. It has 1,000 employees in location-neutral businesses. Among them is SmartWool, the maker of socks for rugged activities, and The Industrial Company, an international construction company, which both began operations in Steamboat and retains corporate headquarters. Outdoor recreation manufacturing employs more than 400.

Tom Kern, director of the local chamber, points out that healthcare has 1,000 full-time employees, energy and mining another 1,000.

"What the economic summit is trying to do is have the community devise a strategic plan regarding its future direction as it relates to economic development. Obviously, tourism will have a large part in that strategy but what are this community's priorities as it relates to these other industrial clusters that presently reside here?" Kern tells Mountain Town News.

Vail tests health-related tourism

VAIL, Colo. — Vail continues to explore how it can make a better income through what is broadly called medical tourism.

It's a rubber-band expression that can, depending upon who is speaking, refer to such traditional things as spa treatments and wellness seminars. Also traditional has been the hosting of conferences and seminars to attract medical practitioners.

In the early 1990s, Vail gained another revenue stream when Tahoe-based orthopedic surgeon J. Richard Steadman set up business. The clinic continues to draw the rich and famous, including professional athletes, to have their shoulders and knees worked on, but more ordinary people, too. Now, a third of the hospital nights at the adjacent hospital are because of the clinic.

Now, Vail is ramping up efforts to draw visitors for health reasons. One aspect is to draw conferences and other such meetings. The Vail Valley Partnership has added a staff member to recruit medical groups and meetings. Chris Romer, the partnership's president, reports that this has grown to more than one-fourth of the group business.

Altogether, the hospital and medical groups could account for as much as six per cent of the towns' economic base, according to Stan Zemler, the town manager, who spoke recently at a forum covered by the Vail Daily.

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