Utah’s outdoor scene is crucial to economy

By Jeffrey Jenkins

The U possesses the unique fusion of a large and respected research university nestled in one of the greatest outdoor playgrounds in the world. The Association of University Technology Managers ranks the U second only to MIT in commercialized technologies coming out of its labs. In addition, the U touts world-class skiing, hiking and other wilderness activities.

Although both the allure of nature and the industrialization of new technologies have their benefits, they are often viewed as opponents with seemingly no middle ground. However, I am of the opinion that there is a middle ground, and Utah’s natural and commercial topography illustrates that an investment in the natural beauty that makes Utah great will benefit the local economy and still allow for commercial pursuits at the U and other industries across the state.

Protecting the natural landscape that makes Utah such a desirable location is an investment in the state’s economy. Utah contains five national parks8212;only Alaska and California have more, which is impressive given that California has almost twice as many square miles as Utah and that Utah would fit into Alaska more than seven times. In addition, Utah has two national recreation areas, six national forests and various state monuments and parks.

These outdoor locations, coupled with the allure of world-class snow and, of course, Moab, combine to make tourism-related jobs account for 8 percent of the jobs in the state, according to the Utah Division of Travel. Protecting these and other environments in Utah will not only protect a pristine natural environment, it will protect the jobs of those involved in tourism8212;the sixth-largest employer in the state. By protecting jobs of locals, the state will be able to see a steadier rate of consumption from them.

In addition to local spending to bolster the local economy, protecting the natural habitats and wilderness areas of Utah will also provide an influx of cash from tourists coming to visit. For example, in 2006, traveler spending in Salt Lake County, according to an Economic Impact of Travel and Tourism study, was $2,427,679,788. The study also noted rural counties with more outdoor attractions, such as Wasatch and Uintah county, which acquired $85 million and $82 million, respectively. In 2008, the Utah Office of Tourism said more than $7 billion was gained by Utah businesses as a result of tourists coming through the state, an increase of 6.2 percent from the previous year. Protecting the wild locations that many of these travelers come to see will no doubt protect a substantial portion of the state’s revenue.

So where exactly does the desire for a wild Utah intersect with the ability to continue to pursue innovation across a broad spectrum of industries? One example is the Utah Outdoor Adventure Expo held in Salt Lake City. The expo touted the latest and greatest gadgets geared toward the wild environments in Utah.

Brian Brinkerhoff, in a May press release regarding the expo, said, “Our goal is to introduce friends and families to the vast recreational opportunities that can be discovered in Utah’s great outdoors.”

These “vast recreational opportunities in Utah’s great outdoors” provide jobs and revenue to the state which can then be reinvested in the U and allow for further innovations in the U’s frontiers of research.

The adventure and outdoor tourism industry in Utah is the middle ground between the motivation to keep an area untainted with industry and allowing revenues from tourists to be reinvested into local industries. Utah illustrates the unique notion that wilderness preservation and industry can grow in tandem and benefit from one another. U students, former alumni and Utah residents should all take advantage of the middle ground that Utah presents and continue to be wild and industrious.

[email protected]

Jeffrey Jenkins