Q&A: Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich


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Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich has run this small, often sleepy mountain resort in Idaho since 2008. But this week, hundreds of people once again descend on the town for the 28th annual Allen & Co. retreat for media, entertainment and tech moguls, finance and legal types, celebrities and their families. Hollywood Reporter business editor Georg Szalai talked to the 71-year-old Willich about his town and what the annual gathering means for it.

The Hollywood Reporter: Do you have any major industries or other sectors besides tourism in Sun Valley?

Wayne Willich: We don't build much here. It's primarily tourism, although we do have some local businesses. For example, Scott and Smith Optics (both make goggles and other sports/outdoor wear).

THR: How does the annual Allen & Co. event compare to others you host and how much of a contributor is it?

Willich: It's probably the largest event (of the year) for us. It contributes for sure. They arrange their own entertainment activities in Sun Valley or (neighboring) Ketchum, so they sometimes take over the whole restaurant for the evening.

But there are other events. For example, we had the Nordic Festival (the Norwegian Olympics team's warm-up before the Vancouver Olympics). Nordic teams train here with wheeled skis in the summer.

THR: What are the key challenges or topics of debate in Sun Valley right now?

Willich: For us, and probably for (the visiting media industry executives), the top three things are: the economy, the economy and the economy. We're aggressively going on a marketing program to get other groups like Allen & Co. (such as with a bid for the USA Cycling Nationals next July).

THR: How competitive are you with other resorts?

Willich: Other resorts charge higher fees. We have a resort tax, if you will. If we didn't have that local option tax on rooms (3%) and retail (2%) and alcohol (1%), we would go broke. In return, we provide police protection and make your stay worry-free. And for you, it's only pocket change, really.

THR: Any idea how much the Allen & Co. event brings in every year in terms of those taxes? How well are hotels and restaurants for the coming days?

Willich: You have to ask the individual businesses about that. But of all local option tax, more than half comes in June through September. And July is a very, very important month for us.

THR: How many people live in Sun Valley?

Willich: We have about 900 registered voters in Sun Valley. Plus, we have a lot of second and third home-owners here who may or may not be here (at any given time). Plus, we have next door Ketchum with a lot of restaurants and retail stores. We are a bit like Disneyland with all else surrounding it.

THR: Do you play any role in the Allen & Co. gathering or attend it?

Willich: Not really. They keep it very private. It's very tightly held. It's pretty much a hush-hush kind of a deal. Tony Blair was here two years ago. He arrived and was gone, and we only knew Tony Blair was here a week later. Local law enforcement people were aware there was a very high-profile person here, but we didn't know details. (And that's OK.)

THR: How does your town deal with the celebrities and entertainment moguls coming in?

Willich: It's one of the characteristics of our town that we don't do the "oh there's a celebrity, so let's get an autograph." Famous people come here all the time and can enjoy themselves (without harassment). Jamie Lee Curtis lives locally. And I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger last year and just said, "Hello, governor."

THR: What's the last movie you saw?

Willich: I have seen "Gladiator" five times at home.