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Outdoor Retailer departure draws varying degrees of concern

Outdoor Retailer departure draws varying degrees of concern

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News, File)

Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Under the backdrop of state and local officials pointing fingers of blame for the loss of the Outdoor Retailer shows and its estimated $45 million economic boost, Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution that is at the heart of the trade group's decision.

Meanwhile, one local businessman who relies on work from the biannual gathering of the outdoor industry in Salt Lake laments the loss of income for his company.

“It was very clear that this decision had already been made, had probably been made months ago,” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said on KSL Newsradio’s Doug Wright Show Friday. “They just wanted to try to embarrass the governor of the state of Utah. And that’s not how we do things here.”

But Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams sees it a little differently.

“The nature of the rhetoric has been so divisive that it’s not surprising to see the outdoor industry taking the stance that they are,” McAdams said.

On Thursday, organizers of the Outdoor Retailer Winter and Summer Markets announced after a conference call with the governor and others they would end their 20-year relationship with Utah after next year's shows. The move was in response to the outdoor industry's frustrations with state officials' efforts to reverse the new Bears Ears National Monument and stated goals to reduce federal control of lands in Utah.

Friday evening, Herbert signed a concurrent resolution passed by the Legislature urging the Trump administration and Congress to reduce the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, calling its creation in 1996 a "misuse of federal law."

Earlier Friday, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he was unsure how the loss of the retailer show would affect Utah.

“I don’t want to diminish the fact that we think they are important and we would love to have them stay," he said. "We would like to work with them, and we will feel that loss, but we are going to survive that.”


For Salt Lake City businessman Adam Swillinger, losing the Outdoor Retailer shows isn't taken so cavalierly. His company, Laser Utah, has been involved in building and deconstructing nearly every exhibit at both the winter and summer markets since 1997.

"They hire our manpower, supply us with blueprints and have us install and dismantle the exhibits," Swillinger said. When he heard that negotiations between the state and show organizers collapsed, he was crestfallen.

"It's going to drastically change the way we make a living," he said. "We won't be able to provide the manpower we're used to providing and it will reduce our sales by two-thirds."

He said he'll have to completely rethink how his company operates.

"I'll have to reduce overhead because I'm not bringing in the income to substantiate the costs," Swillinger said. "That could be from supplies that I order, to truckers that we hire, to storage facilities that we won't use, to (subcontractors) we don't hire."

And with two kids in college out of state, Swillinger, 54, frets the financial impact for his family.

"I can understand why the government doesn't want to be held hostage by a certain industry, and nobody likes to be told what to do, but we have to work as a team," he said. "It's puzzling. It's going to be a life-changing event that affects my whole family, employees, my vendors and my clients."

Hoping there is still a chance that the relationship could be repaired before the show's contract expires next year, he implored both sides to try to work it out.

"We need to work together and put politics aside," Swillinger said.

The lieutenant governor said state leaders were “surprised and dumbfounded” by the show organizers' unwillingness to continue discussions.

“They completely ignored anything the governor offered up, and basically at the end of the call just hung up on him,” he said.

He called it a disappointing end to what had for so long been a cordial business relationship. Noting that industry organizers released a two-page statement just minutes after the call ended, Cox accused some industry advocates of conspiring against a potential resolution.

“This was a set-up all along,” he said. “(A couple of) these companies have wanted to be out of Utah all along.”

However, Cox added that not every entity seemed to be onboard with the decision.

“We’ve received so many calls from members of the (Outdoor Industry Association) saying, ‘This is not us. We don’t want to move. We love Utah,’” he said.

“The sad thing is that we’re really not that far apart on what we ultimately want to accomplish,” Cox said. “But we’ll find shows to replace this one and we’ll be just fine.”

Cox acknowledged that state leaders would still like to work out an agreement to keep the trade show in Utah long-term if possible.

Before that can happen, the county mayor says state officials need to cool the rhetoric, too.

“What we need to do is have a solutions-oriented dialogue about addressing some of the real concerns,” he said. “We need to find the ‘win-win’ instead of continuing the divisiveness.”

He empathized with the outdoor industry’s frustration in hearing state leaders' frequent rhetoric against federal ownership of public lands.

“We’d love to see more investment in managing and preserving our public lands at the federal level,” McAdams said. “There are valid concerns about the management of public lands."

Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, called the announcement disappointing on many levels.

“It’s hard when rhetoric has an impact that is so economically damaging,” he said.

He said filling the hole that the show will leave economically will be challenging, but finding events to replace it is attainable.

“We’re going to be able to find another convention to accommodate those dates in the summer,” Beck said. But finding an annually recurring trade show — which has a larger community and economic footprint — will be a taller order to fill.

“The trade show component is going to be harder to replace,” he said. “We will be able to find a convention in the summer, but the January dates are going to be much harder.”

While trade shows make up only about 20 percent of the overall yearly usage at the Salt Palace, those events have a more-significant impact.

“This is a big hole. I don’t want to diminish that,” Beck said. “This is a big economic impact.”

Soon after the Outdoor Retailer announcement, organizers for Interbike International Expo — a national exposition for the cycling industry — also announced they were removing Salt Lake City from consideration for its trade show.

On Friday, the Salt Lake Chamber released a statement expressing regret on the decision by the Outdoor Retailer show to leave.

“We hope that they will reconsider and give state leaders an opportunity to work more closely with them in our shared goal of protecting our lands,” said President and CEO Lane Beattie. “To be clear, our outdoor recreation and tourism sectors are essential components of Utah’s culture, economy and quality of life. We all have an obligation to preserve this legacy, even if we do not always agree about the specific tactics or means.”

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