Park City businesses celebrate strong season and economy during luncheon
An upbeat, optimistic mood filled the Park City Marriott conference room on Tuesday. With snow-filled slopes and a multitude of visitors spending money in town, business owners and leaders in the community are pleased with how the ski season is turning out.
Members of the Park City Chamber/Bureau met for the organization’s annual Economic Update Luncheon. They listened to Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Chamber/Bureau, speak about strong lodging and snow stats for the season. But they also heard economist Anirban Basu explain the precarious state of the U.S. and global economy. Attendees left with mixed feelings, hopeful for a strong end to the ski season but concerned about the forecast for the national economy.
Malone had a positive tone as he opened the event. He mentioned this ski season’s high occupancy numbers, which reflect increased visitation and a healthy economy in Park City. Estimates as of Jan. 31 indicated February was set to be up 6 percent in occupancy over last year and March was slated for an 11 percent increase, he said. He presented recent stats showing Park City having some of the highest occupancy rates compared to other top U.S. ski destinations. Occupancy data and projected rates from DestiMetrics, a market intelligence provider for the travel industry, ranked Park City in the top three ski destinations for occupancy in January, February and March.
Malone attributed the numbers to the large amounts of snowfall. So far, Park City has had 275 inches, he said, and there are still about six weeks left of the season. Last year, the season finished with a total of 200 inches.
“It’s been a good season, a good forecast for February and March,” Malone said after the luncheon. “Boy, what 275 inches of snow will do for you.”
He said there is a chance Park City could break the two million mark for skier days this year. The previous record is 1,937,807 skier days in the 2015-16 ski season.
But, Malone also recognized some of the challenges Park City businesses face. Since 2013, jobs have increased by 14.8 percent, but the population of Summit County has increased by only 8.4 percent. That is one factor, Malone said, that has made it difficult for businesses in town to find employees.
And job growth in Park City and Utah is only expected to continue.
Basu, chairman and CEO of the economic and policy consulting firm Sage Policy Group, Inc., spoke about the pluses and minuses of job growth during his presentation. He said Utah and the country overall have seen strong economic growth in recent years and watched unemployment rates drop.
Utah’s exploding economy and employment growth is partly because of the quality of life in the state, which attracts young workers, Basu said.
Ryan Best, vice president of marketing for Black Rock Mountain Resort, said after the luncheon that he was interested to hear how the economy is doing in Utah, as well as the factors behind it.
“People want to live here. I like that, because it gives us long-term success. Our growth is more on a stable foundation,” he said.
Although Utah’s economy is thriving, Basu said there are some concerns about nationwide low unemployment. There are currently more than seven million available jobs but fewer than seven million unemployed individuals, which Basu said is concerning.
He said if unemployment continues to drop, it could trigger inflationary prices and high interest costs, leading consumers and businesses to pull back on investments. With that in mind, he said a recession is possible in the next few years, and the global economy has already started to slow.
He said he anticipates 2019 will be a decent year, but not as good as 2018.
Malone said after the event that some businesses have been talking about a possible downturn. He said some Chamber/Bureau members have asked him if they should be preparing for one.
“A lot of people feel like we are in the 10th or 11th inning,” he said. “2019 may not start out as a challenging year, but it will probably finish as a challenging year.”
Although Basu joked during the presentation that Park City seems to worry more about the weather forecast than the economic forecast, business owners did seem to perk their ears up during Basu’s presentation.
They are eager to finish out the season, and to see what the rest of the year will bring.
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