On February 16th leaders from Outdoor Retailer, the Outdoor Industry Association, Patagonia, The North Face and REI met via teleconference with Utah Governor Herbert and later delivered a double blow to Utah, not only will the $45 million in direct spending Outdoor Retailer not include the state of Utah in the RFP process for future show locations, but that the show producer Emerald Expositions will also not extend the request for proposal to Utah for relocating the $22 million in direct spending Interbike tradeshow. Outdoor Retailer also announced that if they could procure a new destination, they would relocate Summer Market 2017.
Peter Metcalf, who has been thoughtfully vocal on this issue for many years felt all of this frustration building beginning last summer, and was talking actively to industry leaders and colleagues about Utah, and the lack of material influence the outdoor industry had on public lands policy in the state. Metcalf began laying out the strategy, discussing the issues and how to impact them. The election of Donald Trump was catalytic to raising the level of concern and agitation while at the same time it was like giving steroids to Utah’s anti public lands leaders who were now emboldened to take off the gloves and go all out in their assault on public lands. Peter notes, “it became clear that Utah’s building public lands assault could be brought to the proverbial line in the sand for the industry if it was properly orchestrated and choreographed, while knowing that at some point it takes on a life of its own, like a fire, and at best you sort of direct it but you don’t control it.”
After the announcement Erik Murdock, Policy Director Access Fund noted that Access Fund’s stance on Utah public lands management hasn’t changed much. The Access Fund will still support Bears Ears National Monument and oppose attacks on public lands. Murdock, however, clearly noted what has changed since the Outdoor Industry drew the line in the sand is the political landscape and the ways the Access Fund will engage with advocacy targets. “There is no longer an opportunity to negotiate with the Utah delegation on Bears Ears National Monument. Utah passed a resolution to rescind Bears Ears National Monument and Gov. Herbert recently stated that he is not willing to change his position. The Access Fund, as well as the outdoor industry, is not going to let up on applying pressure to protect public lands in Utah even if Outdoor Retailer is not in Salt Lake City. The stakes are too high (the climbing in Bears Ears is world class), and our mission is to protect America’s climbing areas and conserve the climbing environment. We will continue to do that across the country, including Utah. Really, things are just warming up and we have no intention to drop off the scene.”
As a whole, the tourism industry in Utah is substantial at $12 billion annually. In the last three years, both national and state parks in Utah have seen year-over-year growth. While Utah is highly criticized for it’s public lands policy, Tom Adams, Director, Office of Outdoor Recreation at GOED wants people to know and remember that within the last several decades, the outdoor products designed and manufactured—and the outdoor experiences available—in Utah have fundamentally reshaped and revitalized our communities. “That’s still true today. We have a vibrant community of outdoor companies who are committed to Utah. Last year, we worked with stakeholders across Utah to begin a ten-year outdoor recreation plan, and we are continuing that process. Utah has a strong track record of supporting public lands. For example, we meet regularly with state and federal land managers on collaborative projects. The Outdoor Recreation Grant supports recreation infrastructure and youth programs across the state. The grants often complement and amplify projects implemented by state and national parks in Utah. While the dispute is heated about public lands policy no one can dispute that Utah is unrivaled in the world for the extraordinary outdoor recreation opportunities it offers. From deep slot canyons to alpine meadows, from soaking class V rapids to parched red rock deserts, from world-class biking trails to the Greatest Snow on EarthⓇ—there is no place on earth like Utah, which is why so many people are standing up for a better public lands policy in the state.
Earlier this year, it was Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard who penned the open letter to Utah Governor Gary Herbert demanding he stand up for public lands. The Governor did the exact opposite and signed a resolution asking President Trump to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument. “Bears Ears National Monument is a sacred home for Native Americans, a world-class location for rock climbers and outdoor enthusiasts, and a mecca for archaeologists. But it is also a target for looters; mining and energy companies and elected officials who want to privatize and develop the nation’s public lands,” notes Rose Marcario, Patagonia’s CEO.
A new chapter has clearly opened up. Peter Metcalf is quick to point out, that the industry’s decision to relocate out of Utah after the Governor refused to budge on the requests of the Outdoor Industry has initiated a growing outcry in Utah’s business, sports, political and citizen communities. This outcry and action was the outcome the outdoor industry wanted if they were forced to make good on their threat. Peter states, “We are creating new powerful coalitions of constituents to challenge the status quo and leadership of this state. The growing tsunami wave of rational and thoughtful outrage must be united and channeled to bring intense pressure onto the existing political leadership of the state and to work to change out those ringleaders of this horrific loss as that would both send a powerful message and allow existing elected leaders to move into our camp or risk being voted out of office.”
Patagonia won’t come to Utah for OR, however they have every intention of being a strong presence in the community and in organizing action, “In addition to being a place where you can purchase Patagonia products, our stores serve as centers of environmental activism and we look forward to continuing that tradition of convening people around environmental issues that cross all political boundaries and impact all people. Patagonia has been actively engaged in protecting public lands in Utah and across the country, including Bears Ears National Monument for many years and we have no plans to slow down now. We will not stand by and watch as elected officials denigrate our public lands, the backbone of our business, and try to sell them off to the highest bidder” said Tessa Byars of Patagonia.
On Tuesday March 7th, the U.S. Senate today voted to overturn a recent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule, known as the Planning 2.0 rule, with yeas from both Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee. The rule was intended to make land use planning more accessible to the public, more responsive to the changing conditions on the public lands, and more efficient. The same day the Salt Lake Patagonia Store hosted their most recent initiative to protect Bears Ears National Monument. Nearly 400 people attended the event, some waiting in line for over an hour, and due to the small size of the store about 50 people were turned away. The attendees were a mix of impassioned locals who want to preserve Bears Ears;
”I’m here because I love our National Parks. We have plenty of places that they can frack and drill and damage, we need to preserve these places for our future generations.” Milan Basik
“I’m really concerned about the State Legislature and the Governor’s Office, about their disregard for the gifts that Utah has been given and I’d rather see them protected than not.” Brooke Young
Lane Beattie, President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce sums up the reaction of local businesses when he says, “We are extremely disappointed and shocked. The Outdoor Retailer Show is part of our culture, it is part of who we are. We can bring in new business over time, but the uniqueness of OR will be missed.”
The loss of the Outdoor Retailer shows will have a noticeable impact on the economy and it will have a ripple effect beyond. The businesses that will be hurt the most will be the specialty businesses that serve the tradeshow market as a convention does not have all the need for carpenters or laborers who deliver, assemble and then service the big booths that are so much a part of the trade show experience. Local hotels and restaurants will lose out on the business of the more than 25,000 people who attend. However, as Salt Lake County Mayor McAdams notes, due to the ripple effect, businesses far and wide will feel it, as some come to realize what the economic impact was for them in the past, and what will be missing without OR.
Scott Beck of Visit Salt Lake notes, “Trade shows and conventions are very different in the size of their impact. Hotels and restaurants will feel an impact in January, but we will be able to find another event for the summer market dates – the event we find for the summer dates will most likely be a convention, which again impacts hotels and restaurants, but it does not impact all of the specialty service providers that service the trade show market.”
The tradeshow is but the highly visible tip of the proverbial iceberg states Peter Metcalf, relative to the $12 billion economic sector of outdoor recreation in the state. It is both in the interest of the industry that is here – one of the largest concentrations of outdoor, ski, action sports, health & wellness companies in America, and Utah’s elected leadership to engage. “We need to engage and activate all of our employees, our customers, our communities and our politicians in a way that we have never done and influence land use policies in a way that benefits the vast majority of our state’s citizens as well as the industry and the overall vibrancy of Utah’s economy.”
Even though OIA has stated that they will not allow Utah to enter the RFP process, Scott Beck is planning for the best and planning for the worst, “We are preparing a bid for future years in case something changes in the next 30-60 days. We are preparing to host three more shows and make certain that the attendees know how much we have appreciated hosting them over the past 20 years. If nothing changes in terms of OIA’s position, then we go to our prospective clients lists and find a group that will consider Salt Lake for events beyond 2019.” Reports that the Utah State Legislature have offered the OR Show a $1 million payment to stay have been misrepresented says Beck, they do not go directly to Emerald Expositions or to the outdoor Industry, “the $1 million is actually an incentive awarded to Visit Salt Lake via the state’s Industrial Assistance Fund (IAF) to construct the pavilions used during the past 6 OR Summer Markets. The incentive was part of a joint effort on behalf of the State of Utah, Salt Lake County, and Salt Lake City to construct the pavilions.” Financial offsets are standard and are used to the benefit of both parties, like providing a 150,000-square-foot tent for additional exhibitor space at a cost of $2.66 million, in 2013.
Moving the show will not be easy and it will not be cheap. Exhibitors will have to ship and find new storage at the new destination, as well find new vendors, carpenters and laborers to assist with booth set-up. Finding dates and space that can accommodate an existing rhythm and business model that has a definite reason to be when and where it is each year will not be easy says Scott Beck. The effect of the move will be 100% dependent on where the OR Markets land for their new home. Examples of changes could be more hotels rooms to choose from, higher priced hotel rooms to choose from, higher exhibitor fees for storage, drayage, show floor expenses like electrical or construction. In all likelihood, they will be traveling significant distances for the On-Snow Demo. Last but not least there is a big risk moving a show of this size, exhibitors and attendees may choose not to come, there is also the possibility that the show grows if the new venue provides more space for the ever expanding exhibitor community that wants to be part of these very successful markets.
There is concern over the long-term effects on tourism because of the move. Salt Lake County Mayor McAdams notes that the visitors who attend Outdoor Retailers gain exposure to, “our beautiful recreational areas. Many of them stay and explore the state more widely; others return for vacations and visits with friends and family members. As they spread the word about all the recreational offerings we have in Utah, visitation grows. Without that “word-of-mouth” effect every year, the opportunity to build on our reputation is diminished.” Scott Beck sees things differently, “Let’s be honest- our tourism assets do not change at all – while there is concern that they may, in the future – they are not changing for the foreseeable future. The only thing that could change our tourism and outdoor recreation industry would be if our parks/monuments/lands are not maintained, or that the public cannot access them for any number of reasons. So far none of that has happened. My response does not diminish the enormous impact the loss of the OR Markets will have on Salt Lake’s convention industry, but the leaving of this show is not due to the loss of any land, it is due to the threat of such a loss. It is my opinion that the actual loss of the access/diminishment of the experience, is the only thing that would impact our state’s tourism and subsequently the outdoor recreation industry.”
Scott Beck would like our elected officials and the OIA to come to the table and look for common ground. “The current situation is a lose-lose, I would hope that the prospect of finding a mutually beneficial, viable solution could create an environment for a win-win solution.” Salt Lake County Mayor McAdams is reaching out to the industry and to retailers in and out of Utah, to let them know what the county is doing to be good stewards of public lands and of the efforts to promote recreation. He’s also reaching out to state leaders hoping to find common ground, particularly as it relates to the understanding of how significant the outdoor industry is to our economy. Mayor McAdams says, “I see valid concerns all sides of the debate. Rather than just continue the divisive rhetoric, I would like to see our state’s leaders address the concerns that rural Utahn’s have about land management as well as promote the protection of lands that have important natural qualities and that offer unique recreational opportunities. That may eventually lead to a more productive and satisfactory outcome for all sides.”
We are at a tipping point for mobilizing a powerful, unstoppable coalition of unlikely allies who are united in their love, passion, and belief in protected, stewarded, and funded public lands. Observes Peter Metcalf, “right now the fallout and ramifications of these actions are still very much growing and political pressure is building. I already feel an inkling of change at a national level and in Utah – at least the discussions are starting. It will likely take 2 or more years to see if we made a difference. I remain optimistic that we will see results in Utah and elsewhere because of this, but they will take time to germinate, grow and be truly visible and felt. With effort, optimism and a bit of luck Outdoor Retailer could be back in Utah in 3 years. That would be something to celebrate.’