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Utah Governor Calls Outdoor Retailer Decision “Offensive”

Last week, we reported that the Outdoor Industry Association was formally breaking with Utah leadership (including Governor Gary Herbert) over their “hostile” stance to public lands.

In a statement, the OIA castigated the Governor and other Utah officials (both in state and in Washington) over their continued efforts to “nullify” the Antiquities Act, delegitimize Bears Ears National Monument and (most gallingly) their attempts to transfer federal, public lands to the state, a move the OIA fears is a death knell for their industry and the American way of life.

In light of this, the organizers of Outdoor Retailer (who joined the OIA in a call with Governor Herbert) announced they would no longer host their twice-a-year trade show in the state of Utah and would move from their current venue in Salt Lake City going ahead.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Emerald Expositions (which owns the Outdoor Retailer show) also said they would not consider moving their annual Interbike trade show from Las Vegas to Utah. According to Executive Vice President Darrell Denny, they had previously received a bid from the state and was “considering” a move, since quashed in light of the OIA call.

Herbert spokesman Paul Edwards called the decision “offensive,” adding that it “reflects a gross ingratitude,” according to an email statement:

“It perpetuates the false narrative that Utah — a state that derives much of its inspiration and identity from its iconic public lands, a state that invests tens of millions of dollars into the protection of and access to its public lands — is somehow hostile to those public lands,” Edwards said in an email Thursday night. “It shows how a political agenda, rather than reason or merit, seems to have captured the decision-making at the Outdoor Industry Association.”

OIA executive director Amy Roberts disagreed, saying that “For 20 years … we feel like we’ve been a good partner and very upfront about our [member concerns] … and what we’ve seen is sort of a ratcheting up over time in actions either by the Utah Legislature or the congressional delegation that really start to threaten public lands and the public’s access to the lands.”

It’s worth noting: 20 years is roughly how long the Outdoor Retailer show has been hosted in Salt Lake City.

Some officials, including Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon, decried Herbert’s stance on Bears Ears, accusing the governor of hypocrisy since he regularly boosts the state’s tourism appeal, which is anchored by its many national monuments and parks. From the Tribune:

“With one breath, Gov. Herbert touts our five, now six, national monuments to increase tourism, and with another refuses to drop the party lines for the betterment of Utah’s economy,” Corroon said in a news release. “After listening to our Utah Republican leadership talk out of both sides of their mouths for years, the outdoor retailers finally put their foot down.”

Salt Lake City Council member Charlie Luke took a less partisan angle in saying the decision “is a huge loss.”

“While I have been frustrated at times with OR’s past negotiating tactics, Utah putting politics before economic development has led to the end of a successful decadeslong partnership with the outdoor industry,” Luke said in a news release. “The same politics that caused OR to leave has probably also killed any future opportunity for Salt Lake City to host the Winter Olympics again.”

Outdoor Retailer’s exit also will leave a void for eateries that get big business from conventiongoers, said Michele Corigliano, executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association.

“We are hoping, perhaps, they can get some other conventions to come into town to make up for it, but, as you know, those weeks — those two Outdoor Retailer shows — had a tremendous impact on our downtown restaurants. We’re super sad to see them go. I hope our legislators take that into consideration, because it affects us all.”

Other states and cities are now aggressively courting Emerald Expositions, highlighting their own commitments to public lands and desire to get a slice of Outdoor Retailer’s $45 million in annual revenue. Indeed, shortly after the announcement, Conservation Colorado placed a half-page ad in the Tribune and Deseret News, calling on the trade show to call the Centennial State home going ahead:

“We have stronger beer. We have taller peaks. We have higher recreation,” the ad reads. “But most of all, we love our public lands. … We have honored and fought for our public lands by defeating land seizure bills and embracing new national monuments. … Colorado knows protecting public lands is just good business.”

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana Governor Steve Bullock has expressed interest at having his state host Outdoor Retailer. Per Bullock spokeswoman Ronja Abel, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development is currently looking at suitable locations across the state.

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