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Outdoor Industry Influences Utah Economically, Politically

Judy Fahys
John Sears leads the Gregory Mountain Products design and development team based in Holladay, a Salt Lake City suburb.

The outdoor recreation industry gathers again in Salt Lake City next week for its summer trade show. But, even before the hundreds of companies arrive, they’re having an impact statewide.

One example is Gregory Mountain Products, which has made backpacks for decades. It faced a big decision two years ago, when a Chicago company purchased the brand.

“When we took a look at what Gregory does and its DNA, to be honest, it wasn’t ever even a question whether or not we would leave Utah,” says John Sears, who leads Gregory’s design and development shop.

It’s housed in the Salt Lake City suburb of Holladay, with stunning views of the Wasatch Mountains just outside, easily accessible for field testing products.

“Having that access so close,” he says, “and having the community of outdoor users and enthusiasts, the Outdoor Retailer shows here -- it’s a pretty tough place to leave.”

Gregory is a part of a $12-billion-dollar industry that means $3.6 billion dollars in wages and salaries for the state. It’s also part of a group with a growing influence beyond business, in state politics. One example is the creation of Utah’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, part of the state Economic Development agency. Now Colorado and Washington state have outdoor recreation offices too.

The Outdoor Industry Association challenged Utah’s efforts to take control of federal lands last year – part of an ongoing effort to protect the assets its customers rely on.

Sears hints that the Bears Ears National Monument proposal will be on the upcoming agenda.

“More to come on that,” he says, “and I’m sure you’ll see these things hit the news during the show.”

The trade show begins with product testing on Wednesday and continues through Saturday.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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