Recreation industry jump starting St. George economy

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ST. GEORGE -- The area in our state hardest hit by the recession is finally starting to see a turnaround. In fact, you could say St. George's economy is being propelled by running shoes.

Last spring, St. George hosted its first Iron Man competition, and organizers made an insightful discovery.

"What we found was that people that participate in the Iron Man, they don't come for one day or two days or three days at the time of the event, they're here three or four months in advance riding the bike route," says St. George City Manager Gary Esplin.

Not consequently, last spring was the first time the city posted a positive increase in the sales taxes in two years.

Events like these are pulling St. George out of its economic slump:

  • The St. George Marathon: 7,000 runners; $5 million
  • The Huntsman Senior World Games: 10,000 athletes; $10 million
  • The Ford Iron Man: 2,500 athletes; $8 million

Golf is by far the biggest draw, with 125,000 out-of-town rounds bring in up to $35 million.

"We've really found that by tapping into our destination capabilities with our scenery and weather, that we can host a lot of events down here," says Kent Perkins, leisure services director for the City of St. George.

It is no surprise that even though the population will sustain two courses, the city has 12. The residents bond and pay for more courses and softball complexes than they can use because it sustains the economy.

Just this week the Huntsman Senior Games are bringing in the largest softball tournament.

"We'll build other fields, because people want to come to St. George to recreate," says St. George Mayor Daniel McArthur.

Residents and business owners notice the improving economy and are encouraged.

"We have had some housing issues, but they seem to be getting better," says local business owner Jeff Morvy.

"We are positive; we're bullish on St. George and all of the things we have to offer here," Esplin says.

This isn't to say every aspect of St. George's economy is looking rosy. Housing and construction jobs still have issues, and the turnaround isn't quick.

But one other positive economic development: St. George's biggest construction project ever is all but finished. We'll show you the new airport Friday night on KSL 5 News at 10.


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Nadine Wimmer


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