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A. Scott Anderson: Why Utah's outdoors contribute to economy, quality of life

Utah’s wide-open spaces, scenic vistas, outdoor recreation, and beautiful travel destinations are immense contributors to Utah’s quality of life and economy.
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Utah’s wide-open spaces, scenic vistas, outdoor recreation and beautiful travel destinations are immense contributors to Utah’s quality of life and economy.

The value is measured not just in the monetary value of tourism, hiking, rock-climbing, mountain biking, boating, hunting and fishing — but also in the intangibles of being close to nature, of escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, and in the mental and physical health benefits of spending time outdoors.

Earlier this year, two former political rivals joined forces to promote Utah’s incredible outdoor resources, particularly the economic value of our wide-open spaces. Republican Congresswoman Mia Love and her former Democratic opponent Doug Owens announced the formation of Utah Outdoor Partners, a business coalition that will provide data and research quantifying the importance of Utah’s outdoor assets.

Partnering with the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, the Salt Lake Chamber and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the new organization commissioned a study by the Gardner Institute that showed Utah’s outdoors were key to the success of Utah’s fastest-growing businesses.

The study showed that fast-growing businesses cited “access to recreation opportunities” and “Utah’s outdoor lifestyle” as the second and third most important reasons they located or expanded their business in Utah. The complete findings of the survey are available on Utah Outdoor Partners’ website.

Numerous studies have quantified the multibillion-dollar value of Utah’s outdoors. Utah’s outdoor recreation industry alone generates 110,000 direct jobs, $12.3 billion in consumer spending, $737 million in state and local tax revenue and $3.9 billion in wages and salaries.

Utah’s booming tourism industry is also directly related to the outdoors. A Gardner Institute study noted that domestic and international travelers and tourists are drawn to Utah’s natural, cultural and historical assets. Utah has 14 ski resorts, most close to Salt Lake City International Airport, as well as five national parks, eight national monuments, two national recreation areas, one national historic site and 43 state parks.

The study notes that in 2015, travelers spent a record $8.17 billion in Utah, generating an estimated $1.15 billion in total state and local tax revenue. Travel and tourism generated an estimated 142,500 total jobs in 2015 and $4.28 billion in wages.

Utah’s ski resorts and parks are experiencing record visitation, and Utah visitors are purchasing more hotel rooms and spending more money on arts, entertainment, recreation and restaurants in Utah than ever before.

At the Outdoor Partners kickoff event, John Harrison, director of engineering at Lucid, said his high-tech company is in stiff national competition for new engineers, so it recruits people who list an interest in the outdoors on resumes. “Beyond what we do with software, we’re also selling a lifestyle and work-life balance,” he said. “Easy access to skiing, mountain biking, camping, climbing is a big contrast to Silicon Valley.”

Gov. Gary Herbert sent a letter supporting the new group’s “important, nonpartisan approach” to “further promote the broad economic value of Utah’s outdoors as we work with business and community leaders to realize the state’s outdoor recreation vision.”

Personally, I believe the intangible value of Utah’s magnificent outdoors is just as important as the economic benefits. Spending time in nature, seeking solitude in Utah’s deserts and mountains and allowing children to explore the wonders of sand dunes, canyons, rocks and plants and animals is good for Utah’s collective psyche and mental health.

Clearly, Utah’s world-famous natural landscapes and unparalleled access to outdoor recreation opportunities are key to our state’s economy and life quality. I’m proud that my business has joined Utah Outdoor Partners, and I encourage others to do so. Together, we can raise awareness of the economic value of Utah’s outdoors and promote investment in our state’s outdoor infrastructure.