Park City in 2011
December 29, 2011
The past year may have had its bumps and bruises when it came to the economy, ranging from riots to unemployment woes and everywhere in between. But in Summit County, 2011 was much smoother sailing compared to recent years.
Anita Lewis, the assistant county manager, said the county had a mixed year that ended better than it began. While it may have begun with shortcomings in the budget that led to layoffs and cutbacks in programs, by year’s end optimism was high.
"From what I’ve been told, it seems that things are looking brighter," Lewis said. "2012 looks to be a better year for the county."
When the county first learned the budget was in the negative, it was a hard lump to swallow, the first deficit for the county in 22 years.
"It was a shock for us," she said. "We had to tighten out belts as many other entities around us did. We were all in the same boat."
Summit County sales tax revenues were high, meaning there were plenty of people visiting, she said. Property tax collection stayed at a 93 percent collection rate in 2011.
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"Summit County is fortunate with tourism," Lewis said. "When you talk to other counties and hear about their pains and how the economy hurt them, we realize we are still very fortunate."
Despite a rough lead into the year, Utah as a whole is beginning to bounce back from the recession, said Zions Bank economist Jeff Thredgold. Over 2009 and 2010, roughly 80,000 jobs were lost, Thredgold said. But 30,000 jobs were added in 2011, putting Utah at the No. 3 position nationwide for job growth.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Summit County, which has an unemployment rate of 6.3 percent, is lower than the rest of Utah, which is at 7 percent, sheltering the state in many ways, Thredgold said. Compared nationally, the county falls almost two percentage points below the national average.
"Utah’s recovery was decent," Thredgold said, "especially compared to all the other states. Next year, I expect more of the same."
For Tom Bakaly, the Park City Manager, the last winter season was what kept Summit County healthy this year. Sales tax revenues increased in 2011, proof that tourism was rising even in a recovering economy.
"Since more of our budget and finance is based on tourism, it was a better year for us," Bakaly said.
Bakaly said the bad economy was still present in Park City, but with heavy snowfall came more reservations and more tourism dollars.
"I think it’s going to be a good year coming up," Bakaly said, "but it needs to snow. Seventy percent of revenue comes from tourism, and a majority of tourism comes in the winter time."
Even though snowfall for the current season has been on the slow side, Bakaly remembers past years where things worked out even with last-minute snow.
"It’s important to keep everything in perspective," he said. "Even in our worst years in 2008 and 2009, we had the highest sales taxes ever."
"We’ve had incredible growth, and we hope that can continue," Bakaly added, "but we haven’t been dependent on continued growth to stay afloat."
Assistant County Manager Lewis said the county is trying to find ways to keep tourism spending in the area. The recently formed Economic Development Committee is all about bringing revenue in to the county. For six months the committee looked at different processes and procedures, whether or not there were obstacles prohibiting new business.
"We want to attract new businesses, but we also want to keep businesses that are already here," Lewis said. "I’m excited for 2012. I think we’ll have a good year and get some things accomplished."