Utah State to welcome summer citizens after pandemic hiatus

LOGAN – Utah State University President Noelle Cockett announced Thursday that the traditional USU Summer Citizens Program will resume in 2021.

For more than 45 years, as many as 800 senior citizens have flocked to Cache Valley each summer, mostly from Arizona. Major attractions for those retiree couples are cooler temperatures, enrichment classes offered during the summer months on the USU campus and the opportunity to attend local performing arts programs and community events.

Utah State will be able to have some of our usual classes, with social distancing and possibly masks,” Cockett said. “We’re looking forward to having them back in Cache Valley and helping make that Summer Citizens Program a success.”

Cockett’s announcement comes as a relief and morale boost for the organizers of local community and performing arts events, including the SummerFest arts fair, the Lyric Repertory Company and the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre, among others.

The cancellation of the Summer Citizens Program in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic had a domino effect on those events, ultimately contributing to their cancellation as well.

State officials estimate that nearly 130,000 tourists visit Cache Valley annually, with about 40 percent attracted by local cultural events, including the usual UFOMT and Lyric Repertory theatrical seasons.

In a presentation to the Logan City Council prior to the USU announcement, Julie Hollist-Terrill of the Cache Valley Visitors Bureau said that the economic impact of tourism on the local economy is profound. In 2019, for example, visitors spent $187.2 million in Cache County, supporting more than 2,000 jobs in the service and hospitality industries.

The annual invasion of summer citizens has previously contributed to that economic impact.

During the summer of 2020, Linda D’Addabbo, the coordinator of the Summer Citizens Program, told members of the Cache County Council that the last formal economic impact analysis of her program was conducted back in 2008. At that time, local spending by just 217 participants had an economic impact of more than $1.3 million. With more than 800 participants nowadays, D’Addabbo estimated that the economic impact of the senior citizen tourists has probably tripled.

But analysis by the Utah Cultural Alliance, based on economic data collected by Americans for the Arts in 2015 and 2016, suggests that D’Addabbo’s estimate may be too conservative. A recent UCA study estimates that the next UFOMT season alone has the potential to boost Cache County’s local economy by nearly $14 million in direct expenditures.

State officials recently shifted Cache County to a moderate threat level for transmission of the COVID-19 virus, which relaxed the social distancing guidelines for local public gatherings. Moreover, Gov. Spencer Cox has predicted that all Utahns will be enjoying summer events without masks by Independence Day.

In addition to supporting Cache Valley’s performing arts community, the summer citizens also benefit local landlords by filling rental units while most USU students are away for the summer.

Cockett said plans are already underway for a range of on-campus classes for summer citizens, with more options possibly becoming available as the number of COVID-19 cases decreases.

“While the class sections we will offer might be smaller than usual,” she explained, “we anticipate having … at least a large percentage … of the programs we have had in the past.”

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