Utah Leverages Olympics Hosting

Given the intense security concerns and emotionally charged atmosphere surrounding the 2002 Winter Olympics, it's not hard to imagine Utah state officials breathing a collective sigh of relief at the conclusion of the Salt Lake City games back in February.

But the benefits of hosting the games didn't end with the lowering of the Olympic flag. Through an innovative program of economic outreach, state officials are making use of the good will generated by the games to create opportunities for long-term business development.

The Utah Olympic Trade Missions program, which was launched in mid-October, will bring representatives of state businesses, universities, agricultural interests and county and city governments into contact with their counterparts in cities across the nation and around the globe, through a series of domestic and international trips.

The program is the culmination of efforts that began with the earliest stages of Utah's bid to host the games, and will build on the $4.8 billion total economic impact the state attributes to its hosting experience.

"Our (economic) planning started with the torch relay, prior to the games," said Lane Beattie, Utahs Chief State Olympic Officer. As a major sponsor of the torch relay, the state hosted business receptions in ten cities along the 46-state relay route, attracting some 3,600 carefully targeted business leaders.

"We targeted specific companies in each geographic area, even to the point of inviting some of their people to be torch bearers. We also invited Utah corporations to participate, and to invite their suppliers to participate and be part of the celebrations when the torch came to their town. We tried to be as all-encompassing in our economic development as we possibly could," Beattie said.

The domestic portion of the Trade Missions program is designed to expand on those initial contacts, while the international travels will bring Utah companies with Olympic experience into contact with future host cities. The program begins with a trip that includes stops in Athens, Greece, which will host the 2004 summer games, and Torino, Italy, which will host the winter games in 2006.

"Right now we're planning nine different trips, each to multiple cities," Beattie said. "The first one, to Athens, Milan and Torino, is specifically tailored to Utah businesses who were suppliers to the Salt Lake City games."

The programs objectives are two-fold: in addition to providing opportunities for local companies to expand their markets overseas and throughout the U.S., state officials also hope to attract out-of-state business interests who are looking to expand or relocate.

"We're not going into other areas and trying to steal a company away, but as companies are expanding and looking for new locations, were making the case that they should consider Utah as a positive place to do business," Beattie said.

In conjunction with the Trade Mission's hands-on promotion of the state's hosting of the games, the Utah Travel Council has launched a $2.4 million advertising campaign that explicitly makes the Olympic connection in print, television and Internet ads.

The Trade Mission trips will be funded largely with private money; public sector costs will be imited to available travel budgets.And if the previous, less comprehensive efforts of other host cities are any indication, the potential economic benefits of exploiting extending the Olympic link will be well worth the effort.

As host of the 2000 summer games -- the most recent Olympics prior to Salt Lake City -- Sydney, Australia has helped attract an estimated $10 billion to the Australian economy in the first five years since it was awarded the games, Beattie said.

The Trade Missions program is scheduled to continue through June.

Patrick J. Walsh is a freelance writer who tracks state economic policy.