Park City was once famous for the rich silver veins in its long-vanished mines. Now it’s the residents attracted to its ski slopes who are rich.
U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday shows Park City is the nation’s second-most wealthy “micropolitan area,” a designation for urban places with populations between 10,000 and 50,000.
The median household income for the Park City statistical area, which covers all of Summit County, is $91,470.
The only other micropolitan area that is richer is Los Alamos, N.M. — home of perhaps the nation’s most millionaires per capita, which also attracts plenty of Ph.Ds and engineers to a national laboratory there. Its median household income is $105,902.
Just behind Park City is Williston, N.D., which saw an oil boom go bust during the five-year period, with a median income of $90,080; Alaska’s capital Juneau, $87,822; and Gillette, Wyo., home of oil, gas and coal development, at $80,822.
That is according to data gathered between 2012 and 2016 by the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Combining data over five years allows it to better estimate a variety of statistics for smaller areas.
Why is the Park City area so relatively rich?
“A lot of people have discovered Park City, and come here to recreate,” said Summit County Council Chairman Chris Robinson. Many of the wealthy “like it so much they decide to stay.”
He adds, “We have a really high quality of life here, and a beautiful setting. We have a very strong resort amenity economy. There’s a lot to do if you want to recreate both in summer and winter. There is a lot of demand for our real estate, and people from around the world want to buy some of it.”
However, “Not everyone has that kind of income. I certainly don’t,” Robinson says, adding the eastern half of the county with its ranches and farms is far less wealthy.
Still, Park City and the surrounding county enjoy a median household income that is 46 percent higher than Utah’s statewide median of $62,518.
Park City’s median is even $20,000 more than the second-highest in Utah: the Heber City micropolitan area at $71,337.
The medium incomes in Utah’s other micro and metropolitican areas over the five-year period were: Vernal, $67,943; Ogden-Clearfield, $65,687; Salt Lake City, $64,564; Provo-Orem, $63,994; St. George, $52,865; Logan, $51,935; Price, $47,973; and Cedar City, $43,799.
Pam Perlich, director of demographics at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, adds half-jokingly that one reason the wealthy may be attracted to Park City “is its clean air” above the inversions that sometimes trap pollution in the valleys below.
She notes that traveling often from that clean air down to the valleys may be one reason why new data also show the Park City area has the state’s longest average commute: 24.4 minutes.
In comparison, the commute in some other areas around the state are: Salt Lake City metro area, 22.5 minutes; Heber, 23.9 minutes; Ogden-Clearfield, 22.5; and Provo-Orem, 21.4. The shortest communte among the state’s urban areas is 17.3 minutes, in both Cedar City and Price.
All those commutes are shorter than the average commute nationally of 26.1 minutes.
Perlich said the new data also further reveal an intriguing trend: the size of Utah’s households is climbing at the same time that its birthrate has decreased for nine consecutive years — which would normally lead demographers to expect smaller households.
She says that may indicate that housing in urban centers near jobs is so expensive that families are combining together to economize. She said that’s also seen in Salt Lake City’s recent move to expand areas where it allows “mother-in-law” apartments, and in its moves to attract more affordable housing.
“The demand is there,” she said. “We have the nation’s largest households.” The average household size increased to 3.16 in 2012-2016, up from 3.06 in 2007-2011.
Those seeking cheap rent should perhaps check out small, remote Daggett County. The Census Bureau reported that it had the nation’s largest drop in rent rates among counties with populations of less than 20,000 people.
It said average rent dropped there from $878 there in 2007-2011 to $338 in 2012-2016.