I call my platform the Three Es: Economy. Environment. Experience.

Jon Schechter for Town Council

There are two specific reasons I’m running for the Town Council.

First, I feel Jackson Hole is heading into an exceptionally important period in its history.

Second, over the next several years the Jackson Town Council will be the most important governmental body in the region, and I want to take an active role in its efforts.

Three Es: Economy. Environment. Experience.

Jackson Hole’s Economy can never be healthier than its Environment. Ditto our community character. Right now, both our environment and economy are very healthy, but we can’t take either for granted. Economically, I believe the town needs to be preparing now for the coming and inevitable recession. Environmentally, as our region’s population and tourism grow, it won’t be enough to simply be good stewards of our environment. We need to be great stewards.

The third E is Experience, and this has two legs.

First, my 25-plus years of studying Jackson Hole gives me a singular depth and breadth of knowledge about our community – its make-up, how it’s changing, its challenges and opportunities.

Second, my experience also includes eight years as an elected trustee of St. John’s Medical Center, including one term as board president. This experience as a local elected official will allow me to quickly become an effective town councilmember.

For all these reasons and more, I humbly ask for your vote.

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Economy

Jackson Hole’s economy can never be healthier than its environment. Ditto our community character. Right now, both our environment and economy are very healthy, but we can’t take either for granted.

Jackson Hole is one community spanning two states and three counties – if Teton Pass or the Snake River Canyon close, people on both sides feel it. My professional work over the past 25+ years has given me unique insights into the nature of the region’s economy, and I hope to be able to use that insight as a Jackson Town Council member.

Economically, I believe the town needs to be resilient, preparing now for the coming and inevitable recession. In part, this means being prudent with government expenditures, and making sure the town has healthy reserves for when our current booming economy begins to slow.

It also means helping diversify our economy, in order to help weather the ups and downs of any one industry’s business cycle. Tourism has treated Jackson Hole well, but as the community grows and evolves, we need to recognize that our economy is also growing and evolving.

In that spirit, I helped found and foster Silicon Couloir, the region’s premier organization for cultivating and supporting entrepreneurship. I have also helped with a variety of economic development efforts in Teton County, Idaho.

All this noted, the fundamental reality of Jackson Hole’s economy is that it is really an amalgam of two very different economies. One is our tourism economy, which accounts for perhaps 40 percent of our jobs and at perhaps 40 percent of local government revenues. The other is the income derived from investments and professional services, which accounts for well over 80 percent of residents’ total income.

These two parallel economies have very different profiles, have very different needs, and make very different demands on our community. To date, they have existed compatibly, but strains are clearly showing and growing. Dealing with those pressures will be an important job for the next town council.

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Environment

The vision of the Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan is to “Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.” This is an audaciously powerful vision, for it recognizes that preserving and protecting our ecosystem requires thinking beyond both the current generation and local political boundaries.

Arguably, the Vision Statement is so powerful and audacious that it has paralyzed local government from taking similarly powerful and audacious actions to support it. Why? Because it’s asking us to create a roadmap for something that’s never been done before, a truly daunting task. To break this logjam, steps I advocate include:

a) Increasing the resources local government puts into supporting the vision;

b) Creating an Ecosystem Commission, analogous to the Planning Commission;

c) Using the government’s bully pulpit to bring together the ecosystem’s many stakeholders to create a roadmap; and

d) Actively developing a baseline understanding of our ecosystem’s health, without which we have no way of assessing our progress (ideally, this will build on related efforts my Charture Institute has initiated over the last several years).

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Community

Three things make Jackson Hole truly distinctive, the three things even the most advanced technology can’t replicate: our landscape, our flora and fauna, and our community character.

Jackson Hole’s environment is the wellspring of its character. Step into Jackson, and you know you’re in someplace distinctive, a place whose people and character have been hewn by the valley’s ruggedness, isolation, and splendor.

Economically, the simple reality is that this distinctiveness sells, and sells well. By extension, the more distinctive we can remain, the more our economy will continue to thrive. Of our three distinctive qualities, however, character is at the greatest risk. Rapid changes and improvements in technology and transportation are linking Jackson Hole ever-more closely to the rest of the world, smoothing off our rough edges and making us increasingly like other places. As this homogenization occurs, we stand at increasing risk of losing those qualities of community, personality, and distinctiveness which have not just attracted so many of us to Jackson Hole, but keep us here.

Decisions Jackson’s town council make in the next several years hold the potential to greatly affect the degree to which Jackson Hole remains distinctive, versus how much we come to resemble and feel like other communities. If elected, this fundamental reality will always be at the forefront of my thinking when considering any issue coming before the council.

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The Arts

Only three qualities about Jackson Hole are truly unique: our landscape, our flora and fauna, and our character. And the greatest threat to our character is commodification; i.e., that we become like other communities.

How do we keep that from happening? How do we keep Jackson Hole’s character distinctive? One key is to encourage and support our arts community.

By definition, the arts are creative and dynamic, distinctive and vibrant. Since Thomas Moran and others first captured the Tetons in the 19th century, artists and the broader arts community have played a critical role in shaping Jackson Hole’s character. They also make a significant contribution to our economy. As a result, today Jackson Hole is blessed with a rich and vibrant arts culture, ranging from world-class facilities and successful arts-based businesses to the multitudes who create, teach, learn, and perform art on a daily basis. Then consider the tens of thousands of residents and visitors who enjoy performances, collect art, and otherwise find their lives enriched by the community’s many artistic facets, and it’s clear how deeply entwined and integral the arts are to Jackson Hole.

Unfortunately, as Jackson Hole becomes more popular, it’s becoming harder for the local arts community to continue to thrive. In particular, rising rents – whether for housing, studios, or other spaces – are making it increasingly difficult for artists and arts organizations. This is particularly true for smaller organizations and artists early in their endeavors, who contribute so much vitality to the local arts scene. Yet should Jackson Hole’s arts community start to wane, so too will a creative spark that has helped animate the valley for so long.

What can local government do?

Three things immediately suggest themselves.

  1. First, acknowledge how important the arts are to Jackson Hole, and the challenges the arts community faces. Government also needs to acknowledge how local artists and arts organizations complement and enrich the region’s schools and educational offerings.

  2. Second, work with the arts community to explore ways to keep it healthy and vibrant.

  3. Third, explore appointing a formal task force to investigate developing an arts district, as well as the tools other cities have used to support their arts communities. What can we learn from others?

A key role for any government is taking steps today that help set the stage for a vibrant future. As the world becomes more homogenized, Jackson Hole’s character and economy will suffer unless we can figure out ways to stay vibrant and dynamic. The arts have been key to the valley’s distinctiveness for over a century, and will remain so well into the future.