Utah Olympics paid off economically

Feb 12 2012 - 8:24am

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SALT LAKE CITY -- With the lighting of the Olympic torch, Salt Lake City went from cow town to world-class city.

A decade later, the 2002 Winter Olympics still provide positive effects across the state, helping solidify a new image of Utah for the rest of the world.

"One of the greatest things that happened in the first 10 years was re-branding," Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Dave Hardman said.

Long-time residents had always known about the beauty and outdoor activities available in the state, said Marty Carpenter, director of communications for Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.

However, the Olympics served as a two-week commercial for the state's tourism and hospitality industry.

"They now know we have the greatest snow on Earth because they saw it on the Olympics 10 years ago," Carpenter said.

Carpenter said the Salt Lake Chamber credits the Olympics witw $4.8 billion in sales, 35,000 job years of employment, $1.5 billion in earnings for Utah workers and, as well as $250 million in venture capital, from 1996 to 2002.

Unlike other areas that have hosted the Olympics in the past, the state was left with no debt and $56 million net revenue.

Representatives from the state parlayed their experience into serving as consultants for the Olympic games in Athens and Torino.

But more importantly, besides the tourists, companies and national organizations saw Utah and said this is the place to do business.

The work began long before the Olympic torch made its run around the globe to the Beehive State.

Jennifer Clarke, Utah Olympic Legacy public relations and programs manager, said officials began improving the state's highways and laying down communications cable.

"It really affected everything in Utah in regards to infrastructure," Clarke said.

Besides Interstate 15 and communications improvements, the state experienced long-term benefits from airport and convention center expansions, and a major light-rail system, originally created for easier access during the Games.

Many venues were built as well such as the Olympic Oval and Olympic Park.

Thanks to an endowment left by the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee, Clarke's group maintains the venues for public use.

"We've been able to privately manage our Olympic venues, the oval and the park, and build our sports programs, which is our key mission," Clarke said.

The Olympic legacy is not limited to those venues. Clarke said before the Olympics there were three ice skating rinks in the state; now there are 16.

Other areas benefit from the Olympic effect as well.

Prior to 2002, Snowbasin Resort, the site of the game's downhill, combined and Super-G ski competitions, was a 1950s-style lodge with port-a-potty restrooms

"Now it's a world-class resort lodge," Hardman said, "one of the top-notch, snow-making hills in the country."

Higher-end restaurants and a burgeoning art scene grew within the state as well.

The changes go beyond making life easier or more entertaining for residents. The new and improved amenities drew more tourists.

Through some work, the area became known as more than a ski hub.

A person who skis also mountain bikes, Hardman said, so the area pursued people interested in other outdoor activities.

National sporting events, such as Dew Tour, Xterra, even the Ogden Marathon, grew in prestige.

Outfitters began taking people on rafting or kayaking excursions, not as common before the Olympics.

National sports organizations, such as the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and U.S. Speedskating, relocated their headquarters to Utah.

Yet the games' economic legacy goes beyond tourism and sports. The venues, art scene and outdoor activities serve as enticements to business.

Companies that came here for the Olympics, such as Infinite Scale, which created the building-sized banners, relocated their offices to Utah.

Ogden went from a blue-collar industrial town to branding itself the high-adventure capital of North America.

After 2004, Ogden became home to Amerisports and Goode Skis. The kayaks floating down the Ogden River may well have been constructed in Business Depot Ogden.

The lifestyle and activities available help attract employees to the area's aerospace industry as well.

"If we hadn't taken advantage of that little portal of opportunity, we wouldn't be where we are," Hardman said.

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