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Rod Jensen, Bank of Star Valley President/CEO delivers economic chamber report

Rod Jensen explains the economic study and outlook at the Star Valley Chamber of Commerce Luncheon. SVI PHOTO/DAN DOCKSTADER

• Star Valley challenged by high home costs.


“It’s great to watch Star Valley,” said Rod Jensen, Bank of Star Valley Founder, President and CEO, in his opening comments with SVI Media shortly after offering comments at the January Star Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Gather on 89. “We are in a unique and enviable position.”

“Unique and enviable” because unlike other rural communities, the Star Valley community is growing.

“A lot of rural counties in the U.S. have people leaving and businesses are closing,” he pointed out. “We are in a vibrant, growing community. You are seeing it on main street. You are seeing with new housing. You are seeing it with new residents who are bringing new talents and attributes and an increase in the human capital in the valley.”

However, the bank president who has for years released annual economic studies of Star Valley quickly inserted, “It’s exciting, but with growth comes real changes and problems.”

Jensen reflected on the increasing costs across the nation but noted even more rapid change in Star Valley.

“Everybody knows it’s been expensive,” he said. “We had a big increase in the money supply during Covid and then transitory inflation turned into real inflation. Prices have gone up, but it’s been even worse in Star Valley.”

He continued, “We used to be about a Wyoming average for a cost of living. Go across Wyoming and take the whole state and that’s 100, we were in that range. Now, we have moved to the unenviable position of becoming the second most expensive place to live, following only Jackson.”

He advised, this scenario causes problems where households have average incomes. “If you are not a high-income person, it is a challenge. It causes challenges with childcare, and everything from housing to entertainment.”

The high cost of living coupled with rapid inflation increases the problem. “We have a rapid inflation rate. That’s the scary part; it’s not just driven by national inflation, a lot of it is driven by the dynamics of Star Valley.”

One of the dynamics is housing, advised Jensen. “It comes down to our biggest crises with housing. By that I mean affordable housing.”

To further explain, he noted the national income rate as a reference point. “We are a moderate-income community. We have a household net income of about $83,000. That’s a U.S. average, a little higher in Wyoming,” he explained.  “It’s not a bad place from an income perspective. But by the time we buy the more expensive housing, that income doesn’t go as far.”

He advised that housing problems need a closer look in Star Valley.

“We really need to address housing,” he said. “There have been studies. A great study was done by Teton County that indicates we need over 700 homes to meet our current workforce needs. Not growing but current workforce needs.”

The lack of affordable housing leads to problems for employers. “The school has difficulty; the hospital has difficulty. I as a banker have had difficulty in getting people. People want to live here but when they go out and see what it costs to live here with a house and all the other attributes they say, ‘No Thank You, I’ll go somewhere else.’ That will dampen our economic growth and cause some problems.”

Jensen pointed to proposed changes with Lincoln County Planning and Zoning regulations. “I worry about the new Planning and Zoning proposal to increase the minimum lot sizes from two acres to five. We already have an affordability problem and that seems like to increase lot size to require bigger lots will not solve moderate and medium housing needs. I’m worried about that.”

He advised the housing issues will have problems for the next generation. “We raise exceptional children,” Jensen emphasized. “You look at the outcome of Lincoln County No. 2 on their test scores, on where they rate in the state and in the nation. We have extremely brilliant, capable children who go through a strong educational system, and it tears at my heart. Right now, there is basically a sign at Star Valley High School that says if your 18 years-old  ‘you can’t afford to live here, go away, good luck, visit if you can.’”

Jensen warned, “That is not a long-term solution. We need those great young individuals with energy and ambition. They need to be living in Star Valley and making Star Valley a better place to live.”

He continued, “We need, as a community, to come up with a solution for affordable housing. We need to figure out how we can solve this because these kids need to live here. We want them to live here. They want to live here. We’ve got to make this dream come true.”

Despite the challenge, Jensen concluded on a positive note and word of advice. “I really see a bright future for Star Valley. My worry is that I don’t want it to turn into a Jackson where basically only a limited few can live there – where all the income is made by a few and not the others. We do not want to become that, so we need to make sure zoning and our plans allow for housing.”

Jensen said Star Valley existing strengths, it’s unique character and the ability to address problems will work in the valley’s long-term favor.

“We have a bright future. We have a strong economic base. We have strong employers from mining to aircraft and gun manufacturing. This is just a unique community. There’s not another like this. It’s a great place to be. I think it only has a brighter future. It will have more people. It will be more crowded, but we will solve our problems, we always have.”

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