Legacy of Olympics lives on in Utah's economy

Legacy of Olympics lives on in Utah's economy

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SALT LAKE CITY -- There's no doubt the Salt Lake Games of 2002 were a huge success, garnering praise from officials and athletes from all over the world. But along with the Olympic legacy that every host city enjoys in the years that follow, there's the economic legacy.

There was a lot of uncertainty in the first couple of years after the Olympics.

The Salt Lake Olympics was the most expensive winter Olympics in history with a budget of nearly $2 billion. While much of that came from private sources like television networks, local, state and federal taxpayers footed an estimated $625 Million of that.

Even before the games started, the impact was very real. 35,000 jobs appeared in Utah from 1996-2003 thanks to the $1.3 billion dollar injection in to the local economy. Local and state governments saw revenues in the tens of millions. There was no doubt Utah was "all in".

By the numbers
Before the games:

$2 billion cost
35,000 jobs created
$1.3 million to local economy

During the games:

250,000 visitors
2.1 billion viewers
13.1 billion TV hours

After the games:

No debt
$1 billion into local economy
62 world cup events
7 world championships
90 Olympic-related events
450 hosted events

Then came the games. 250,000 visitors traveled to the state. 2.1 billion viewers in 160 countries and territories watched a total of 13.1 billion television hours of Olympic coverage. Utah had a worldwide audience for 17 consecutive days, which everyone hoped would create momentum for decade, branding itself as the world capital for Winter sports.

If you think about what got out there, it was the great television coverage that said Utah is a beautiful place, every single day - ‘What a beautiful place,'" said Jeff Edwards with the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.

But despite the exposure, the results were slow at first. There weren't as many jobs and there were too many homes.

"In the Spring of 2002, Utah went in to a deep recession," Edwards said, "and we all kind of looked at each other and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we've done all this work. Where are all those companies we expected to come?'"

The good news, on the other hand, was that there was no debt was to the state following the games. In fact, the profits were used to create endowments to keep venues running, museums were built and Utah became the new hub for winter sports moving forward.

And things didn't stay down. Over the last eight years, the return on investment has been staggering.

"Looking back on it now, I believe the Olympic games were the turning point in Utah's explosion in economic development," Edwards said.

"You can put a quantitative number on some of it," said Jeff Robbins, president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission. "Certainly in a sports arena sense, we've had about a $1.3 billion in direct economic impact since the games, $250 million in media value."

And the numbers continue to impress: Since 2002, there have been 62 world cup events, seven world championships, 90 Olympic related events, three national governing bodies now call Utah home, more than 450 hosted events and $1 Billion dollars pumped to Utah's economy.

"We like to look at Utah as a state of sport, and we've seen as many non-winter Olympic events taking place: the Dew Tour, the Iron Mans, marathons, Extera, motorcross. So it's not only the Olympic winter sports," Robbins said.

In 2010 alone, the tourism industry generated more than 110,000 jobs. Hundreds of companies have started or moved to Utah to take advantage of the skilled workforce and outdoor access. Much of that synergy is tied directly or indirectly to the Winter games in 2002.

If the numbers don't persuade you, perhaps Governor Herbert already answered the ‘Was it worth it' question recently when he launched an exploratory committee to look at the possibility of bringing the games back to Salt Lake in 2022.

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Scott Haws


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