Economic forecast predicts for blue skies and tourists
Echoing Punxsutawney Phil’s prophecy of an extended winter Thursday, the Park City Chamber/Bureau’s fourth annual Economic Forecast Luncheon predicted continued economic growth for Utah and the Park City area.
Chamber/Bureau Executive Director Bill Malone was joined by an elite lineup of local economic visionaries, including Deer Valley Resort President and Chamber/Bureau President Bob Wheaton, Utah Office of Tourism Board Chair Kim McClelland, Park City Municipal Corporation Director of Capital Projects and economic Development Colin Hilton, Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer, Park City Board of Realtors Statistician Michael Sloan and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr.
What to expect at the State level
Huntsman addressed a packed room at The Yarrow Hotel, sharing his thoughts on Utah’s high population growth rate, tourism and recent job growth.
Huntsman noted last year, Utah enjoyed a 3.5-percent job growth rate, second only to Nevada, which, he joked, had an unfair advantage since it permits gambling. The governor added that last year, Utah also saw a 20-percent jump in tourism between 2004 and 2005, and credited Park City, along with the state’s other seven ski resorts, for the rise.
"Red rock is great, but when you travel overseas, this is where people are talking about," he said. "Colorado is yesterday’s ballgame."
Huntsman also points to population growth as the major factor responsible for the state’s current budget surplus, which currently exceeds $500 million.
"The driving force behind the economic boom is population," Huntsman said. "[Utah] is not Kansas&We’re not shrinking, but we’re moving forward with numbers that are very compelling."
Utah is only enjoying its 110th year as a state, he noted, and as such, he says the state is the best example of what the future holds for the entire country: a growth in population due to immigration, in addition to the state’s high growth rate.
"My grandfather wouldn’t recognize this state. We’re becoming, as they say in biology, heterogeneous," he said of Utah’s demographics.
Huntsman says he plans to spend surplus dollars on the state’s youth by investing a record amount of money in education. In the near future, he would also like to build upon biotechnology research, because he says he believes health science cures for disease and the ability to extend a quality life of those who have deadly diseases is where the future of the economy lies.
"[As a former ambassador and diplomat] I used to travel to all regions of the world, and the regions that prospered are those that were tied to research universities," he said.
Chamber shares the ingredients for success
Malone pointed to the evidence: Summit County’s skier days in 2005 jumped up 11.8 percent from 2004, hitting a record of 1.6 million skier days and already, he says, is poised to break last year’s benchmark.
"I find pleasure in the fact that when I tell people overnight visitation is already up over eight percent, they say, ‘oh my business is doing better than that,’" he says.
According to Malone, the Chamber anticipates the final calculation for the fourth quarter of 2005 will be more than $3.7 million in transient room tax for the county an increase of 19 percent from 2004.
The success in numbers, however, is not an accident, Malone said, citing six reasons why the county has been so successful recently: a great product, great service, a cooperative environment, great accessibility, a forward-looking government and aggressive marketing.
"My belief is that since the Park City area possesses these six items, it can expect a pretty good thing," he concluded. "I predict next year, 2006, will be a great year.
How the rest of the world figures in
McClelland, a long-time Parkite property manager with an insider’s perspective on the Utah Office of Tourism’s $18 million branding campaign, took a look at the bigger picture.
"Our brand platform will speak for the spirit of Utah not just the mountains or the red rock," he said.
He noted that the new state slogan, which was expected to be unveiled February 8, would not be revealed until a later date. After the slogan was created, the governor and board rejected it since they discovered it was so similar to Colorado’s new tagline, "Enter a Higher State."
"We need to take time to get it right," McClelland explained. "We’re not going to settle for mediocrity."
McClelland reports that once he had the chance to tour other areas in the U.S. and beyond, he determined that the Park City Chamber/Bureau does some of the most effective marketing he’s seen. However, he anticipates several potential challenges on the horizon when it comes to the future of the travel business: rising gas prices, Delta’s bankruptcy, the threat of the Bird Flu and the threat of terrorism.
"Terrorism is not something we talk about anymore, but if you listen to the RAND Corporation, it’s not ‘if,’ but ‘when,’" he explained.
McClellend concluded his portion of the luncheon with the observation that tourism ultimately is about service and about people.
"When people come here, to a great degree, their experience is based on their interactions with people," he said. "So all of us sitting in this room have a greater responsibility than you probably realize."
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Officials predict the economic impact of the coronavirus will last into at least next summer.