What happens at Jackson Hole?

By Natalie Sherman
Business reporter, New York

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMore than 700,000 people visited Grand Teton National Park in July

For a few days every August, a remote Wyoming valley known for mountain views and wildlife sightings sets the stage for serious talk about interest rates, inflation and the world's labour markets.

How did Jackson Hole - more than 2,000 miles west of Washington DC - become a favoured retreat for central bankers and economists from around the world?

Officially, the answer is work.

A regional branch of the US Federal Reserve hosts an annual conference each August at the Jackson Lake Lodge in the heart of Grand Teton National Park.

But as with the millions of other tourists who pass through the area every summer, nature was the original draw.

Why Jackson Hole?

The Kansas City Federal Reserve, one of the US central bank's regional entities, started holding an annual conference in 1978. In the early years, the discussions focused on agriculture, but organisers had aspirations for a more high-profile event.

The hope was that the location - in the middle of a national park - might help woo then Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, who was known to be "fond of fly-fishing", the bank's history of the event recounts.

"I said we need a place for our next symposium (where) people can fish for trout," recalled Tom Davis, a former senior vice-president and head of economic research at the Kansas City Federal Reserve.

image copyrightThe White House
image captionFormer US Vice-President Dick Cheney goes fly-fishing in Wyoming

Mr Volcker accepted, but did reportedly raise questions about the distance.

"He said, 'Roger, how in the hell did you ever get to Jackson, Wyoming?'" former Federal Reserve president Roger Guffey said.

Sounds nice. Is it?

Indeed. Jackson Hole has been a haunt for plutocrats for decades.

John D. Rockefeller, heir to the Standard Oil fortune, vacationed there, famously buying up thousands of acres that eventually formed much of what is now Grand Teton National Park.

The valley counts actors Sandra Bullock and Harrison Ford among its homeowners. Celebrity sightings include Pippa Middleton, while singer James Blunt recorded the music video for his song Bonfire Heart in the area.

"It's one of the most beautiful spots in the United States and it is sometimes hard to tear oneself away from the views to go back inside and listen to more discussions about monetary policy," said economist Alan Auerbach of the University of California, Berkeley, who will be speaking at the conference this year.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionBill and Hillary Clinton vacationed in Jackson Hole in 1995

The Federal Reserve knows the prime location is part of the conference's popularity, but officials are alert to any implication that the conference is just an excuse for a luxury escape.

"The symposium is not considered a vacation getaway," the bank insists in its materials. "Jackson Hole is well known for its many resorts catering to outdoors enthusiasts from around the world, but the symposium is held each year at the Lodge, which, in line with its National Park setting, does not have some accommodations commonly found at other sites, such as a spa, exercise room or salon. In fact, televisions are not available in the Lodge's rooms."

(The website of the hotel is a bit more enthusiastic, citing "all the amenities and guest services you would expect from a full-service resort".)

Hmmm. Can I get in on this?

A spokesman for the Federal Reserve declined to reveal how much the event costs, what participants are charged or how it is kept within the venue's capacity limits.

The company that runs the Jackson Lake Lodge for the National Park Service also declined to comment on the event or how quickly the 300-plus rooms at the lodge get booked. (Cabins and camp sites are also a possibility.)

Nothing appeared to be available this weekend, but some rooms were going for about £270 a night at the start of September if you can stand a 14-hour flight from London, according to hotel booking websites.

Technically, the lodge, as a National Park Service facility, remains open to the public throughout the event.

In 2014, a group of green-shirted protesters crashed the party. They were convinced to return to meet with officials in a more formal capacity two years later.

What do locals think?

The tiny town of Jackson, a 45-minute drive south from the hotel, sees about four million people pass through every summer. Visitors are such a reliable crowd that the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board focuses its promotion efforts on other seasons, says its boss, Kate Sollitt.

So while investors around the world may be alert to any hints given by Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and European Central Bank president Mario Draghi on Friday, locals say it's practically a non-event.

"The majority of our community doesn't even know they're here," Ms Sollitt said.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionJackson saw an influx of tourists for the eclipse

This week especially bankers were eclipsed, as Jackson was one of the places in the US where the sun and the moon would fully overlap, said Gavin Fine, owner of Fine Dining Restaurant Group and Rendezvous Bistro, which he said has been patronised by former Federal Reserve chairs Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke among others.

"We were in the path of totality so we had an influx of hundreds of thousands of people," he said.

Still, when it comes to name recognition, Mr Fine says playing host to the Federal Reserve every year "doesn't hurt".

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