Sun Valley gears up for Allen & Co.

Idaho Mountain Express (Ketchum)July 5, 2014 

Sun Valley Conference

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, left, walks with Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn at the Sun Valley Inn during the 2011 Allen and Co. Sun Valley Conference.

JULIE JACOBSON — AP

For a newcomer to the Wood River Valley, the secrecy surrounding the annual Allen and Co. conference resembles the beloved book and movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”: You’re at the Sun Valley Resort, hoping for a glimpse of the action, but deep down you know that the chances of swimming in the chocolate waterfalls and drinking fizzy lifting drinks are about as likely as finding a golden ticket in a candy bar.

Allen and Co. is a famously private investment company that holds a yearly “meeting of the minds” at Sun Valley Resort in early July. This year’s five-day retreat begins Tuesday.

It’s been going on since 1984, and a number of the world’s technological and business elite have attended. The company hand picks a couple of hundred guests, and the event is often a catalyst for company mergers and buyouts. Last year, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post after the conference.

Security is tight. Reporters from the New York Times, Bloomberg and the Associated Press typically find themselves cordoned off into a 4-by-7 foot “pen” while waiting for attendants to leave meetings in the Limelight Room conference center. Neither the public nor the press can attend the discussions and forums led by big-name business moguls and media celebrities.

Residents, though typically unfazed by frequent celebrity sightings, see an influx in media and pretense when the conference begins. The invite list was leaked last week to multiple news sources, the Idaho Mountain Express reports. Philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Lean-inner Sheryl Sandburg and Jack Ma of Alibaba Group are a sampling of the big names asked to attend this year.

The guest-list fragments floating around the Internet reveal a trend in app and website developers and owners receiving invitations. Though the names might not be widely known, the companies Dropbox, Square, Expedia, Pinterest and Groupon are said to have representatives on the guest list.

Ma, one of the richest men in China, founded the e-commerce business Alibaba Group Holding, of which Yahoo holds a 23 percent stake. Bloomberg reports he’s been invited but isn’t attending, though the company’s August public offering should be a topic at the conference.

The recreational appeal of the Wood River Valley is one reason Herbert Allen chose the location 30 years ago. Invitees often bring their families to relax in luxury. Local outdoors businesses increase their activity as some of the world’s wealthiest innovators take whitewater rafting trips and biking expeditions.

From rental-car agencies to local eateries, the conference is a boon for local business. A party affiliated with the conference commonly rents out the entire Il Naso restaurant in Ketchum for dinner. Organizers pay top dollar to many locals to serve as babysitters, guides and drivers, while the resort benefits from a week in the media spotlight. However, it’s hard to gauge the economic gains from the conference guests, due to the closed-lips expectation that Allen and Co. trusts local businesses with.

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