Monumental Battle: It's About the Economy

written by: Susan Lacke

The battle over Bears Ears claimed its first economic casualty in February, when Outdoor Retailer, the world’s largest trade show for the outdoor industry, announced it would no longer host its twice-yearly event in Utah.

The show’s owner, Emerald Expositions, said in a news release that it would not include Utah in its request for proposals from cities hoping to host Outdoor Retailer, an event that has brought 40,000 visitors and $100 million to Salt Lake City each year. Instead, the show will end a 20-year relationship with Salt Lake when the contract expires in 2018. Interbike, a cycling trade show also owned by Emerald Expositions, also announced it would end talks to move its event to Salt Lake City from its current host city of Las Vegas. The event attracts approximately 23,000 attendees and $30 million annually.

The exit announcement came after months of dissent from show vendors, frustrated with Gov. Gary Herbert’s request for President Donald Trump to repeal the Bears Ears National Monument. Patagonia was the first to boycott the show. The company’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, accused Herbert and other political leaders in Utah of “denigrating our public lands, the backbone of our business, and trying to sell them off to the highest bidder.”

More than 100 vendors at Outdoor Retailer followed suit, exiting the trade show with scathing open letters to Utah’s elected officials. “If we all band together, it’s actually going to sting,” said Peter Dering, founder of San Francisco-based Peak Designs. “Plenty of states who do the right thing are ready and willing to take Utah’s place.”

One of those states is Colorado, which began aggressively courting Emerald Expositions with  ads framing Colorado as an ideal location for future shows, including one from Conservation Colorado in Utah newspapers that proclaims: “We have stronger beer. We have taller peaks. We have higher recreation. But most of all, we love our public lands.”

The future home of Outdoor Retailer has not yet been decided, but one thing is clear: Come 2018, it definitely won’t be Utah. Kate Lowery, communications director for Outdoor Retailer, says that bridge is burned. In the meantime, the show is working to salvage what vendors have not individually pulled from Salt Lake’s remaining two conventions by promoting the show as an opportunity to showcase not only their products, but their advocacy. “Outdoor Retailer and Outdoor Industry Association will harness the creative ideas already being put forth by exhibitors to express their opinions,” said Lowery. “We are already exploring options, including utilizing the time and funds earmarked for the Industry Breakfast as a time to express our opinions; rallies; conservation town halls; and a community campout using city parks, among other ideas.”

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Susan Lacke
Susan Lacke
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