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Outdoor Convention Announces Move To Denver Over Utah's Public Lands Policy

Judy Fahys
The Outdoor Retailer Trade show has grown during two decades in Salt Lake City. In its new home in Denver, beginning next year, the show is expected to combined with two others and more than double the economic impact of the twice annual convention.

Utah’s biggest convention is pulling stakes and moving to Denver after two decades in Salt Lake City. The move is no surprise after the public clash between Utah’s Republican leaders and outdoor recreation industry leaders last spring.

Not only is the Outdoor Retailer trade show quitting Utah. It’s severing contracts to stay in Salt Lake City through next year. That means the local economy is losing around 60,000 convention-goers and up to 50 million dollars annually when the final show packs up later this month. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams says the county is already looking for replacement conventions.

“None of them are going to be as big as the Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Retailers show,” he says. “But we’re confident we can bring in other conventions to fill the dates.”

Adam Swillinger runs Laser Exhibitions, a company that handles booths at the Salt Palace twice a year. He says the pain of the loss will trickle down to hotels, cabs and other local businesses like his. He says businesses were caught in a political chess game thanks to the dispute between the industry and Utah leaders over public lands policies.

“We’re being used as pawns and bishops and rooks,” he says, “while the kings and queens are really making the calls.”

Economist Natalie Gochnour says the move will be a hit to Utah because of the communications breakdown.

“Will we survive this? Absolutely. Can we recover? Absolutely,” she says. But this is a missed opportunity.”

The rift over Bear Ears, in particular, left state leaders feeling bullied, while the outdoor industry felt its concerns about Utah lands policies were going unheard.

At a news conference in Denver on Thursday, the industry and Colorado leaders talked about a natural fit that will be beneficial to all involved.

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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