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Expert predicts spring in economic forecast

Dan Bischoff, OF the Record staff

While most of the country waited for the groundhog’s forecast last Friday, Park City business owners waited to hear if an economic spring would also be on the horizon.

On its 25th anniversary, the Park City Chamber/Bureau hosted the 2007 Economic Forecast Luncheon at the Grand Summit Resort Hotel at The Canyons with a growing contingency of Park City businesses.

The Chamber/Bureau now numbers "1,171 business members strong," said Bill Malone, the executive director of the Chamber/Bureau, when he introduced the event. "The local economy continually amazes me."

Overall, the luncheon speakers predicted a flourishing Park City future. In 2006, Park City businesses had a 1 percent increase in destination visitors. The number may look diminutive but it had a large impact on Park City’s bottom line.

"A 1 percent increase in lodging means there was $1.5 million spent downtown. Park City is now at a mature enough stage that 1 percent is a significant amount," Malone said.

The growth in Park City reflects the overall growth of the state. Jason Perry, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, was the first speaker. He painted a picture of the needs Utah has as the sixth fastest growing state in America. Perry said the growth of the state is three-times the national average, which also brings more jobs to Utah.

"We need to create an environment where jobs can be created," Perry said.

The Office of Economic Development has put together $37 million in incentives to persuade companies to come to the state. Perry said, historically, the state has never given retail stores incentives to move here. Now, a hand has been stretched out to Backcountry.com. That $1.37 million incentive to move all of its operations here generated 369 new jobs. Rossignol was also given a $2.5 million incentive, which has created 100 new jobs in the state. With Rossignol’s move to Utah, Perry said three of the four major ski companies now call Utah home.

Part of the effort is to bring an increased awareness about Utah.

"The good news is people don’t have a negative perception of Utah," Perry said. "The bad news is: the state of Utah does not have a perception at all."

Perry said people surveyed thought places like the Arches and Bryce Canyon were located in Arizona instead of Utah. Reversing this trend will have huge benefits, he said.

"We got to make sure we control our own destiny," Perry said.

Skiing, however, doesn’t rest under the same ambiguity. The glow of the 2002 Winter Olympics still lingers, which, Perry said, is causing record numbers on Utah’s slopes.

"The number of skiers coming here is a big deal to Utah," Perry said.

Scott Pierpont, president and managing director of The Canyons has seen it firsthand.

"There were record numbers of visits last year," Pierpont said. "Park City will be the No. 1 ski destination within five years."

Pierpont also credits the Olympics for creating an awareness of the Wasatch Mountains. The more people come here, he said, the more they experience the accessibility of Utah’s ski resorts. Of the record numbers, Pierpont said, 70 percent of the destination skiers came from California, Texas, Florida and New York.

Pierpont told a story about a recent ski trip to Colorado. He ended up driving hours in tight traffic. The trip made him appreciate the accessibility of Utah’s resorts.

"Nothing compares to what we have," Pierpont said.

Aside from accessibility, "We’ve had a 6.7 percent increase in total ski days. The industry (nationwide) had an increase of 3.3 percent."

The ski industry will be successful if resorts continue to market to families, Pierpont said.

"It’s all about children in the future," Pierpont said. "I see parents incorporating it and the family sharing experiences with the kids, which is different than (when I was growing up.)"

When marketing to families, The Canyons will also be directing its attention to women.

"As we know, 92 percent of decisions are made by women," Pierpont said.

At the same time Perry is trying to bring more businesses here, however, there is a 2.5 percent unemployment rate in the state and a 2.2 percent rate in Summit County, he said. That number means the unemployment rate is basically nonexistent, therefore there is a shortage of qualified employees to fill the growing job market.

"Salaries are increasing because of this shortage," Perry said. "There was exceptional growth through the year. Expect a 2.8 percent population increase and salaries to have a 9 percent increase."

Engineers are the No. 1 employment need in the state, according to Perry.

"There are about 1,000 engineer jobs that could be filled today," Perry said.

To overcome this problem, the Office of Economic Development kicked off a campaign to recruit engineers. During the first two weeks of the push over Christmas, it received 125 resumes.

Perry says the programs are working.

"People are no longer looking for a reason not to be here," he said.


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