SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's tourism industry took a $30 million hit from the partial federal government shutdown that idled the state's popular national parks earlier this month, the governor's chief economist said.
Other than that, Juliette Tennert said, the direct impact on the state's economy was relatively small during the 16-day congressional stalemate. The Governor's Office of Management and Budget is working through the numbers as it prepares a proposed budget for next year, she said.
Meantime, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, this week introduced a bill he's calling the Provide Access and Retain Continuity Act that would allow states to manage national parks and other federal programs in the event of a shutdown or lapse in funding.
"It doesn't matter what happens in Washington, D.C. We're going to be open," the first-term congressman said.
Stewart said the tourism, mining, timber and transportation industries lost millions of dollars each day the government wasn't operating.
“That’s absolutely crushing to communities that rely on these industries. The PARC Act would ensure that an agreement is in place to allow states to quickly continue funding and operating federal facilities and programs that are vital to their economies, if they so choose," he said.
The state's effort to reopen the parks six days before the federal budget impasse ended last Wednesday lessened the blow to mostly rural areas that rely on them to make a living.
"The fact that the parks were opened ahead of the shutdown ending helped to turn that faucet back on," Tennert said.
Utah spent $166,700 a day to reopen eight national parks, monuments and recreation areas for an estimated $3 million a day in economic benefit, Gov. Gary Herbert said.
"It's a good return on your investment," he said.
But the 10-day closure still took a toll on the parks and related businesses that employ about 129,000 Utahns and bring in an estimated $1 billion a year to the state and local communities. National park visits in October account for 10 percent of the total annual visits.
Ruby's Inn just outside Bryce Canyon National Park estimates it lost $750,000 during the shutdown, but $2 million because of it, said general manager Lance Syrett.
Syrett said for every dollar visitors spend on a hotel room, they spend more than a dollar on meals and activities such as horseback riding. The loss also includes cancellations, including some from large international tour groups, through the end of the year and early next year, he said.
"There's the long-term effect we're going to have to work hard to overcome," Syrett said.
The inn made up about $500,000 over the Columbus Day weekend, and Syrett said he was "pleasantly surprised" to see it doing better this week than at the same time last year.
He said Stewart's national parks "insurance" bill would be invaluable, "so we could go to our clients and say, 'Hey, in 2014, it doesn't matter what happens. The national parks are going to be open.'"
Tennert said she was most concerned about the effects of a prolonged shutdown.
"The longer the shutdown continued, the more potential for impact on Utah's economy," she said.
There likely would be less economic growth in the fourth quarter than there would have been absent the shutdown, Tennert said. Nationally, economists are forecasting less than 3 percent growth for the last three months of the year.
"It's the uncertainty that's really dragging consumer confidence and business investment," she said.
Though Utah is well positioned in terms of economic strength, Tennert said, it is not immune to what happens nationally.
"We do anticipate growth, but that growth will be below potential," she said.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche
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