Thanks to the rich, Park City’s economy has outperformed elsewhere | ParkRecord.com

Thanks to the rich, Park City’s economy has outperformed elsewhere

by Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD

The economies in mountain resorts like Park City and Jackson, Wyo., are outpacing many other places in the U.S., thanks to their status as spots that attract the rich.

The assessment comes from the leader of a Jackson think tank that closely monitors economic conditions in resorts. Jonathan Schechter, who is the founder and the executive director of the Charture Institute, delivered a presentation Monday night in the Santy Auditorium at the Park City Library and Education Center, drawing on numerous sets of data as he described the economy and demographics.

In an interview afterward, Schechter said mountain resorts draw a wealthy clientele, leading to their relative economic strength. He mentioned the Colorado resort communities of Aspen and Vail alongside Park City and Jackson.

"Better than a non-mountain town," he said about the economic conditions. "They’re wealthier to start with. They have more cushion."

Schechter added that the wealthy weathered the recession better than the typical American. He said he anticipates business in mountain resorts will tick upward over the next 12 to 18 months unless the wider national economy bottoms again as it did during the depths of the recession.

"Barring another economic collapse, I don’t see any reason why things will not continue to improve gradually," he said.

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The tourism segment of the Park City economy proved resilient in the time since the worst of the recession, with solid numbers reported during the ski season and the summer. Park City’s proximity to Salt Lake City likely pushes up the numbers, particularly in the summer.

Other stalwarts of the local economy, notably construction, though, have not performed as impressively. Construction numbers continue to be well off the record setting years prior to the recession.

Schechter did not talk in specifics about the economic forecast for Park City during his prepared presentation, but he provided numerous data sets describing the community. The event drew approximately 100 people. Many were alumni of the Leadership Park City program, which prepares class members for positions of influence in Park City and surrounding Summit County.

He showed charts illustrating the population growth in Summit County over the decades and the sharp increase in incomes in the county. He noted that income from investments has risen in the county, an indication that the wealthy have moved to Summit County.

Schechter, meanwhile, called Summit County a "job machine" as employment opportunities were created in restaurants, resorts, hotels and other businesses in the tourism industry. But he also said Summit County is unique in that it is a bedroom community catering to people with jobs in the Salt Lake Valley as well as having its own tourism industry.

"There really is no other place in America like Summit County," he said.

Schechter said people are drawn to Park City from larger cities by a healthy environment and the area’s wildlife, adding that some people are seeking other places to live than big cities.

"What you’re seeing here is lifestyle economy," he said, noting a "lifestyle boom."

He mentioned Charture Institute’s home city of Jackson on several occasions on Monday night. Jackson, the center of Wyoming’s ski industry, has long been one of Park City’s mountain resort competitors.

Schechter spoke about the impact on tourism of nearby Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, saying that the winter is not the prime season for visitors even with a well-known mountain resort. He said, though, the skiing there has pushed up property values.