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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Preparations for next year's Olympics have given Vancouver an economic boost that's comparable to those enjoyed by past host cities, according to a study released on Thursday.
Venue construction and other preparations for the Games from 2003 through 2008 helped create an estimated 15,875 to 20,780 jobs, bolstering the area's already strong economy.
The four-part report by PricewaterhouseCoopers is the first to study the economic impact of the Games on Vancouver and other parts of Canada.
Organizers of the Canada's bid for the Games touted its potential economic benefit in their efforts to win local support for hosting the 17-day international event, which holds its opening ceremony on February 12.
Pre-Games work generated between C$684 million to C$884 million in real economic activity in the host province of British Columbia and up to C$170 million in the rest of Canada,
The federal and provincial governments paid C$525 million for construction of competition venues during the study period, and there was about C$600 million in other construction by groups and companies related to the Games.
Taxpayers also funded major highway, transit and convention center projects, but government officials argue that is not Olympic spending because it would have been done eventually even without the event.
The researchers, who were contracted by the federal and provincial governments, did not look at the impact of those projects.
"Our investments are achieving their intended results," Gary Lunn, Canada's federal minister of state for sport, said in a statement.
Although Games spending has been a boost, the researchers said the area's economy and construction market were already strong so unemployment levels would have fallen even without the Olympic spending.
The employment created also appears to be similar to that spurred by the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, and the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, according to the researchers.
Local critics of hosting the Olympics say the economic gains have been offset by social costs, such as displacement of homeless and loss of affordable housing poor due to Games-related projects.
A study by the University of British Columbia on the social and environmental impact of the Games is expected to be released by the Vancouver Organizing Committee at the end of the month.
Job creation and new training programs linked to the Games cut social assistance payments by up to 2.5 percent, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers study.
The worldwide economic downturn did not hit the Vancouver area until late 2008, so its impact will not be known until later studies.
Reporting by Allan Dowd, Editing by Frank McGurty