The top 5 business stories of the year in Park City
Amid substantial changes in the nation, Park City felt the rippling effects. The ski industry was introduced to a new contender, one that has a large stake in Park City, while Deer Valley Resort bid adieu to a longstanding leader. At the same time, companies denounced laws from state officials and tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration, claiming the changes might threaten their business. But not all struggles were new. Recurring challenges, namely labor shortages, continued to plague businesses throughout the year. The five most important business stories in Park City this year are as follows:
5. Tariffs cause price hikes in Park City
International dilemmas spilled into the area as U.S. tariffs on goods from China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union hit Park City businesses. The 10 percent tariff on aluminum and 25 percent tariff on steel and from Canada, Mexico and the European Union, which went into effect in the spring, caused Park City breweries to reconsider the cost of canning their beer and purchasing new equipment.
Materials to construct houses were also hit with steel and lumber tariffs, which contributed to a spike in housing costs, according to Park City Board of Realtors President Todd Anderson.
Later in 2018, as the Trump administration imposed 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods produced in China, the outdoor industry cried foul and braced for the effects. Nick Sargent, president of Park City-based SnowSports Industries America, traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak out against the tariffs. The tariffs have not yet been lifted.
4. Hospitality industry furrows brow over new liquor laws
Restaurants and bars around the state, including those in Park City, were at odds with the Utah Legislature this year as lawmakers voted to implement new liquor laws.
A new DUI law, set to go into effect on Dec. 30, will reduce the blood-alcohol content threshold for drivers from 0.08 to 0.05. Tourism leaders worry the new law, which was originally passed in 2017, will dissuade visitors from coming to the state. They say alcohol is part of the experience tourists seek out while on a vacation and that the lowered limit will damage Utah’s already poor reputation for strict liquor laws.
Another law, which went into effect on July 1, forced restaurants to give up their dining club licenses and choose between registering as a restaurant or a bar. In the past, restaurants could have a dining club license and operate as both a restaurant and a bar, which allowed businesses to have more relaxed rules for serving alcohol while maintaining a kid-friendly restaurant title.
For example, in restaurants with a dining club license, guests were permitted to order an alcoholic beverage without ordering food. That is not the case with restaurant licenses in Utah. The law forced dining establishments to choose between what many restaurants deemed two imperfect solutions, or undergo construction to divide their spaces and maintain a restaurant in part of their buildings and a bar in the other.
3. Labor pool continues to shrink
Steadily low unemployment rates in Utah and high housing costs continued to create worker shortages in Summit County. The ever-present issue appeared to worsen this year. Businesses like the Woodland Biscuit Company and Escape Room Park City had to reduce their hours of operation because owners could not fill positions. Café Trio in Kimball Junction said difficulty hiring workers was one of the reasons it closed in October.
The issue remained prevalent throughout the year, as opposed to only during the traditionally difficult winter season. In an effort to entice workers, businesses kept upping the ante with improved benefits, but “Now hiring” signs still dot Park City.
A lack of affordable housing remains one of the top reasons for the shortage, since many employees cannot afford to live in or near Park City, according to hospitality industry leaders. And as the long-term rental pool shrinks as more property owners enter the nightly rental market, the problem is likely to remain.
Seasonal workers coming to town in November and December said it has been the most difficult season yet to secure housing.
2. Alterra Mountain Company expands its reach with Ikon Pass
The ski industry was reshaped this year, and Park City was ground zero. Deer Valley Resort’s parent company revealed its name — Alterra Mountain Company — and its Ikon Pass as a direct competitor to Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass.
The newly formed company partnered with resorts in British Columbia, Alberta, Vermont, New Zealand and Chile, continuously increasing the offerings for pass holders. Vail Resorts, though, did not sit idly by. The company, which owns Park City Mountain Resort, built up its own empire by purchasing or partnering with resorts in Washington, Vermont, New Hampshire, Colorado, Canada and Japan for its Epic Pass.
The Ikon Pass provides skiers with limited days at Deer Valley Resort, Brighton Resort, Snowbird and Alta Ski Area. When Alterra Mountain Company announced that it had snatched up Solitude Mountain Resort, the Big Cottonwood Canyon resort was also added to the Ikon Pass, providing users with unlimited access. Solitude was owned by the former owners of Deer Valley Resort.
Given the amount of resorts offered on the Ikon Pass, ski industry leaders are anticipating more skier visits to Deer Valley Resort this season, and more visitors to the state overall.
1. Bob Wheaton leaves Deer Valley after decades
Following a 30-year run leading Deer Valley Resort, Bob Wheaton announced he would be leaving the role of president and chief operating officer of the resort. The ski industry icon and face of the resort is expected to assume a position as a senior strategic advisor for Alterra Mountain Company, the resort’s parent company, in January. Under Wheaton’s leadership, the resort expanded into the Empire Canyon area of Deer Valley and toward the Jordanelle Reservoir with the Deer Crest development. Deer Valley also became an internationally recognized resort, receiving the prestigious distinction of No. 1 in Ski Magazine’s since-discontinued rankings eight times. He has been at the resort since its opening in 1981.
To kick off the season, Todd Shallan replaced Wheaton. Shallan brings 35 years of hospitality experience, and 19 years working for KSL Capital Partners, one of the entities that created Alterra Mountain Company. Shallan hopes to enhance the resort’s experience with improved technology and renovations at the base of the resort.
A study pegged the number of Sundance Film Festival attendees at 122,313, with the event generating an economic impact of $182.5 million. Both numbers represent a slight decrease from the 2018 festival.