Commentary: Stop and think about another Olympic bid

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

The amount of time passing between each public mention of a possible Utah Olympic bid is getting shorter and shorter, and the “volume” of comments seems to be rising. To me, that means that the decision has already been made. Utah will put its hat in the ring to be awarded another Winter Olympics.

Let me say that I love the Olympics. My family had just moved to Utah before the 2002 Olympics, and I had the good fortune of being able to attend three events a day. It was an amazing experience. (My wife? Not so much. She still reminds me that she was home tending to our sick infant who was suffering from RSV.) Another Olympics in Utah would give my kids a chance to experience what I thought was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

There will be endless opinions about whether Utah should host another Olympics. Some opinions will focus on the money – the games may make or lose money for the state. Other opinions will focus on the intangibles – the games may increase tourism and put Utah on the map again. Without a doubt, there are many good arguments in favor of hosting the games again. Utah is magnificently well equipped to handle the Olympics. The venues exist, and only need a relatively small investment in upkeep. Transportation infrastructure is great. Venues are within reasonable distances. Volunteerism is high. And that Utah snow!

But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. So while I am not arguing against hosting the games again, I do believe that it should be considered wisely.

If the Olympics lose money, as they often do, there’s virtually no upside that would make it worthwhile. If the Olympics make money, that’s great, but let’s be clear, the Olympics will make money in the part of the state that’s already doing great. And it’s always important to remember that those who pick up the costs (the taxpayers) may not be the same ones who reap the benefit (private enterprise).

For example, the Olympics will certainly prove, yet again, to be a tremendous advertisement for our “local” ski resorts. But why not leave that advertising to those private businesses? And based on current growth projections for the Wasatch Front, and the projected growth in annual skier visits, until we solve the transportation issues that are already choking Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon (neither of which will see Olympic traffic but will see post-Olympic tourism increases), and even Park City, it’s not entirely clear that attracting more skier visits is an ideal goal for the health of our communities

More importantly, however, the Olympics will do nothing to drive economic growth or employment in the 10 eastern and southern Utah counties with an unemployment rate that exceeds 5 percent. It’s hard to argue that Salt Lake, Summit, Utah and Weber Counties with Olympic venues need the economic shot-in-the-arm. And if we could turn all of the time and attention that the Olympics will take to helping those 10 rural counties, think of the long-term benefit that would have to our state.

While those counties may share in the potential profit of the Olympics as they did in 2002, we should be ready to invest no less than what we are willing to invest in the Olympics, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, into our rural communities. This should be done until we have attracted every utility-scale solar field and every other potential business that could be relocated to these rural communities, and until every last rural resident, including all of our out-of-work coal workers and ranchers, have been given the opportunity to be retrained to work in these new, similarly paying professions.

So, from where I sit, hosting the Olympics again would be tremendous fun, would add to our well-deserved civic pride, would increase our already sky-high volunteerism and would, yet again, put Utah on a global stage. Hosting the games would even prove inspirational. But that doesn’t make it a good idea, unless we’re ready to also put in an equal amount of effort, intellect, financial resources, and local grit into solving some of the very significant problems that will still be with us when the Olympics pack up and move to the next town.

Josh Kanter is the founder and board chair of the Alliance for a Better Utah.

Read entire Salt Lake Tribune article here.

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