Emerald’s contract with the Salt Lake City Convention and Visitors Bureau runs out in 2018, and threatening to depart for a city like Denver could be used as leverage.
The company that runs the industry’s largest trade show is listening, but more brands need to speak up if they really want to make Utah feel the hurt
by Frederick Reimers, Outside Magazine
Tuesday, Patagonia sent shock waves through the outdoor industry when the company announced it would no longer attend the biannual Outdoor Retailer trade show if it was held in Salt Lake City. OR, as it’s known, has long been the outdoor industry’s largest core gathering—a place to show off the hottest new gear, build buzz, and codify trends. Each summer and winter, 20,000 people pour into Salt Lake City and the adjacent Wasatch Range for the show. Suddenly this week, however, that relationship is in jeopardy, as a growing number of brands are unhappy for one simple reason: Utah’s desire to remove public lands from federal management.
Utah is a leader in the movement to transfer federal lands to the states, which concerns adventurers and sportsmen who believe those lands will be compromised or sold off entirely to development. In late January, Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz introduced one bill that would eliminate law enforcement within the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and another directing the U.S. Department of the Interior to sell 3.37 million acres of federal land to the states. (Chaffetz agreed to withdraw the latter bill after considerable public outcry, though he has yet to do so.) Then, on Friday, February 3, Utah Governor Gary Herbert urged the Trump administration to revoke the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah.
Patagonia’s response was unambiguous. “Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution urging the Trump administration to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument, making it clear that he and other Utah elected officials do not support public lands conservation nor do they value the economic benefits that the outdoor recreation industry brings to their state,” wrote Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia, on Tuesday. “Because of the hostile environment they have created and their blatant disregard for Bears Ears National Monument and other public lands, the backbone of our business, Patagonia will no longer attend the Outdoor Retailer show in Utah and we are confident other outdoor manufacturers and retailers will join us in moving our investment to a state that values our industry and promotes public lands conservation.”
In January, mid-sized Utah-based apparel maker Kühl said it would pull out of the show if Patagonia did. Many expect Salt Lake–based Black Diamond to follow suit because of the strong public lands activism of former CEO Peter Metcalf. “Utah is the birther state of the most anti-stewardship, anti-public lands policy in the country,” Metcalf told the Denver Post last week before heading out on a backcountry vacation. “If we can’t affect policy by staying, then the next step is leaving.”
More surprising is the stance of the Outdoor Retailer show itself, which brings an estimated $45 million to the city each year. On Monday, Outdoor Retailer director Marisa Nicholson wrote, “We’ve been listening to the concerns from the industry and agree that it is time to explore our options. Salt Lake City has been an incredible home to Outdoor Retailer for the past 20 years, and we aren’t opposed to staying, but we need to do what’s best for the industry and for the business of outdoor retail.”
Note that word: business.