Idaho Resort Cities Coalition visits Teton Valley
Published May 03, 2023
Originally published in Teton Valley News on April 19, 2023, written by Conner Shea.
For more information, contact Brian McDermott, TREC at BrianM@trec-biz.org.
There was an unusual buzz throughout Teton Valley last week as county and city officials met with representatives from Idaho’s Resort Cities Coalition, which is a group of officials from 19 resort communities throughout the state.
The Coalition was started in December 2021, at the behest of Ketchum, ID officials who were growing concerned that state legislators were suppressing the concerns of small resort communities. The original members of the coalition were Ketchum, Hailey, Sandpoint, and Stanley.
Looking around the Teton County Board of County Commissioners meeting room, one could see the central mountains were well represented on nametags and jackets.
The tour kicked off on Wednesday, April 12th, with officials touring the Idaho National Laboratory before arriving in Teton County and receiving introductions from local officials
On Thursday, meetings began in earnest, with the morning starting with a presentation (led by Jackson Town Council member Johnathan Schechter) focused on the changing demographics of the Teton region. That was followed by a growth and economic development panel made up of officials from both Teton Counties as well as Driggs, Victor, and the Teton Regional Economic Coalition TREC). Up next was a look at how community nonprofits are shaping land development and health efforts, and then a mental health panel was brought to explain how the Teton region can further efforts to ensure the population remains healthy and happy.
Due to the poor weather on Thursday, instead of a walkthrough of Driggs, the coalition took in a ‘virtual’ tour of the city as officials pointed out projects of interest and noteworthy initiatives.
The tour was then planned to go up to Grand Targhee Resort to interface and visit with resort management, but owner Geordie Gillette had to cancel a few hours before departure due to an ‘undisclosed’ reason.
Thursday night officials held a working dinner at Highpoint Cider where a multitude of Victor businesses shared their perspectives on business growth and climate, hosted by Victor Mayor Will Frohlich and Brian McDermott of TREC.
Officials convened again in BoCC chambers Friday morning, this time focusing on workforce housing issues while hearing from Teton County WY’s Housing Director April Norton and the Teton County Joint Housing Authority.
Recreation was also discussed, hearing from nonprofits such as Mountain Bike the Tetons. After those two sessions, officials did a walking tour of Victor, and then packed up to make their way back to the central mountains.
“It was truly an impressive couple of days,” said Victor Mayor Will Frohlich. “It kind of blew my expectations out of the water.”
“You talk to a lot of these folks in various ways, but having them here in person to showcase the valley and the cities was pretty special,” said Frohlich.
Outside perspectives are especially valuable when coming from other relatively isolated communities that have very similar issues as Teton County.
“There were a lot of positive comments about the working relationships between the cities and the county and tackling some of the complex issues. I feel like Blaine County, Valley County, it seems like they’re a little bit more siloed, so to speak, than we are here,” said Frohlich.
“A lot of the folks kept saying that Teton Valley kind of reminded them of the Wood River Valley back in the 90s. There were some positive affirmations from a lot of members of the group. They really wished that in the 90’s they were doing a lot of the things that Teton Valley is tackling right now,” said Frohlich. “They urged us to not let off the gas pedal.”
Those affirmations are rooted in similarities that outside officials have seen in other areas of Idaho.
“There was a commonality between the different cities and county representatives that a lot of the towns that we live in, people that have lived here for a while or people that moved in here, they kind of feel like the towns are kind of unraveling or blowing up or just becoming something that they can’t really wrap their heads around from a growth trajectory standpoint,” said Frohlich.
“They tend to lean on local governments to solve those issues, right?” asked Frohlich. “Local government actually has a pretty limited toolkit to solve a lot of those issues. That was reassuring to us too because we sit here and obviously we work very hard on certain initiatives. We try to listen to the community and try to be problem solvers, but at the end of the day, it really shows that the local government can’t carry the burden solely to accomplish solutions to these complex issues.”
With that sentiment in mind, The Resort Cities Coalition hired a lobbyist to advocate for these cities in the Idaho State Legislature. Wendy Jaquet, coordinator for the IRCC, talked about the importance of that lobbyist and how they champion solutions to issues that plague communities such as ours.
“They tell us, rather than just sort of lashing out at something that we don’t like, they suggest ways that we can move our objectives forward without offending anybody,” said Jaquet.
Jaquet was a former legislator herself, serving constituents for 18 years as a representative for District 25. That has helped her (and the IRCC) gain familiarity with state-level processes.
“I still know the characters and understand the language, which I think is helpful for them,” said Jaquet.
With visits like this, Jaquet considers three primary objectives for each outing.
“My objective has been for us to go to a community where we look at issues that they’re dealing with like we’re dealing with and find out if there are some things that we could learn and take back. But then my second objective is to build community. Um, by having people spend more time with each other and speaking with each other and finding commonality and then saying, oh, wow, we could work on this together, couldn’t we? So my third objective probably should be now that, that we share more with the community,” said Jaquet.
Jaquet was impressed with how the outing went, the fourth one that the IRCC has completed. Other locales that the IRCC has visited similarly include McCall and Sandpoint.
“I think this is the best one I’ve ever done,” said Jaquet. “Whenever you do something, you get better every time.”
At the end of the day, Frohlich is sure that this cooperation will help Teton Valley significantly.
“I think in forming this resort city coalition was that we knew we had a lot of the same hurdles and issues to work through and at the end of the day, we all know we want to preserve the qualities of our towns, right? We don’t want them to turn into everyday America, strip mall towns that don’t have values, that don’t feel like a place to come home to, and so on and so forth. It really helps, the more the merrier is the easiest way to put it,” said Frohlich.
“It’s reassuring to know that it’s not just Victor, it’s not just Driggs. It’s not just Teton County, Idaho. It’s these other resort cities. How do we come together to help solve those issues? And I think, you know, numbers are power, right? So when we have more numbers and more people with connections, it seems to be easier to tackle,” said Frohlich.