The long summer drought in Utah may be lingering but one dry spell in Provo is over, and local businessmen haven't been so happy since last spring.
When a good part of 27,000 Brigham Young University students leave Utah County for the summer every year, merchants in the Provo/Orem area know it. But Provo is now splashed with blue and white signs exclaiming "Welcome back, students," as bankers, grocers, restaurant owners and movie-house managers rejoice over the start of school Monday."It's kind of like water coming back to the desert," said Steve Densley, president of the Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce. "Certainly the Chamber of Commerce will be the first to cheer. You've got an overall very positive attitude toward the students here."
Their attitudes are favorable because those students spend millions of dollars in the area each year. A 1986 economic impact report, done for the university by a national research organization, shows that just those students who work on-campus or receive out-of-county funding spend $29 million in Provo/Orem yearly. That figure does not include money spent by students who are employed off campus.
Competition for all of those dollars is serious, and companies begin hitting on students almost as soon as they arrive in Provo. A good example of that is the booths banks and credit-card companies set up on campus during last week's freshman orientation. It was an attempt to woo customers before the competition could get to them.
For companies like Zions Bank, students can be very important customers. In fact, Hardi Jenkins, operations officer for Zions' university branch, said BYU students are the lifeblood of his office.
"Our branch is located so close to campus that most of our clients are students," he said. "Our main thing is to get freshmen when they come in so most will remain for all four years."
The branch gets about 1,500 to 2,000 new customers each fall when school begins, and though many won't remain in Provo after graduation, Jenkins said, students are generally good customers while they're here.
"For the most part, we've found that students up at the Y. are pretty responsible and they take good care of their accounts," he said. "Basically, what we do with the students is give away every service that we have. We're conscious of what the competition is doing with the students." While the banks watch each other, everyone seems to be watching the students. What do they want? How much can they afford to spend? Densley said the developers of a new movie theater scheduled to open in June think they have the answer. The eight-theater complex will show four- to six-week-old movies and charge only $1 for each showing.
"It's to allow the students to have a financially less stressful experience," Densley said.
All of the interest in the student market keeps business booming in the area, but Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins said students make more than economic contributions.
"University students make a tremendous contribution to the city's economic vitality, but over the years they have had an even greater impact on Provo's well-being through thousands of hours of service projects and good-will efforts," he said. "We appreciate having these young men and women in our community."
And it would be quite a different community without the university. BYU as a whole pours in an estimated $215 million to the area's economy every year.