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.