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Outdoor Retailer Announces Plans to Remain in Salt Lake Through 2009 – Show Floor Space to Increase 40% – Outdoor Industry Association Dilutes Wilderness Protection Message to State of Utah (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2004)

Commentary on the decision to keep Outdoor Retailer Markets in Salt Lake City through 2009 and the OIA's position statement regarding state of Utah contributions to the industry.

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by Ryan Jordan | 2004-08-12 03:00:00-06

Outdoor Retailer Announces Plans to Remain in Salt Lake Through 2009 – Show Floor Space to Increase 40% – Outdoor Industry Association Dilutes Wilderness Protection Message to State of Utah  (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2004)

Salt Lake City, UT (Aug 12, 2004 10:45 am) – Last night Outdoor Retailer and the Outdoor Industry Association announced that the Outdoor Retailer Summer and Winter Markets will remain in Salt Lake City until 2009, contingent on two criteria:

First, that the Salt Palace Convention Center be expanded to accommodate exhibitor demand for more floor space, and second, that the state of Utah makes meaningful efforts to preserve outdoor recreation opportunities in the state.

OR Floor Space to Increase: VNU and Large Exhibitors Will Benefit Most

The former condition is measurable and obvious – in fact, financing has already been secured for the first phase of construction, which begins next week, and by 2006, Salt Palace Floor Space will increase by 40%.

The increase in floor space will likely benefit only larger exhibitors looking to increase space available for better showcasing their vast product lines and increasing meeting space to maximize productive throughput with their retail dealer base. Smaller exhibitors will likely see little benefit in the expansion – in fact, the expansion means that the fraction of real estate occupied by a small exhibitor – and thus – their ability to attract attention – will decrease.

Expect to see the dominant industry players exhibit in booths more resembling a retail showroom than a trade show booth. The decision to expand is a byproduct of market share aggregation among a few companies within the outdoor industry that will continue to make it more difficult for small manufacturers to compete.

Show Director Peter Devin states, "The outdoor industry possesses a great sense of community and vested interest in the future of the OR shows and it has been determined that, for the present, the business of the outdoors should continue to be conducted in Salt Lake City".

The business decision to keep Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City isn’t rocket science. Salt Lake City is one of the most convenient air hubs in the country and offers lodging and meal prices that put other candidate cities, such as Anaheim or Las Vegas, to shame. (Selfishly, we like the decision, simply because it will make life easier for BackpackingLight.com, and our friends at BackpackGearTest.org, to conduct our business.)

Will the expansion offer opportunities for smaller, cottage manufacturers to conduct their business more cost effectively, despite the fact that increasing floor space will ultimately reduce in lower costs per square foot for Outdoor Retailer?

We doubt it.

OIA: Flexing Its Muscle or Massaging the Governor’s Shoulders?

More controversial is the contingency that Outdoor Retailer will remain in SLC so long as the State of Utah does their part in protecting Utah’s “recreation gems”. The official statement from the Outdoor Industry Association reads as follows:

“The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Board of Directors recommends the Outdoor Retailer tradeshows remain in Salt Lake City for the next five years contingent on the state of Utah’s continued partnership with OIA to promote a recreation economy and to protect its recreation gems…”

Note the careful use of language here. OIA demands that the state of Utah promote a so-called “recreation economy” and protect its so-called “recreation gems”.

Part of this strategy, as outlined in the OIA press release, is the appointment of the Recreation Economy Task Force by former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt. The dual mission of the task force is to “build Utah’s recreation economy” and “protect Utah’s recreation gems,” and – now listen close – “protect constructive wilderness dialogues”.

This press release seems to offer little more than passive advocacy for wilderness protection considering that it comes from the voice of an organization that integrates wilderness protection as one of three basic tenets of their policy agenda. Read the agenda by visiting www.OutdoorIndustry.org and clicking “Government Affairs”, and then “Policy Agenda”.

Essentially, what OIA is asking the state of Utah to do is to promise to talk about wilderness issues. Further, the state of Utah, being one of the most pro-development states in the Union, has a tarnished record of narrowly defining “constructive” as it pertains to dialogue about wilderness protection. Considering the pro-development records of some of the state and federal (governor-appointed) members of the Recreation Economy Task Force, the battle for wilderness protection and wild lands value in Utah will not be an easy one.

OIA may be making a good business decision here: they need Salt Lake City for practical reasons. Moving a major trade show like OR to Las Vegas or Anaheim would bring months and possibly years of logistical headaches that have already been worked out for the Salt Lake venue. Clearly, OIA has flexed its muscle enough to warrant a massive infrastructure upgrade from the State. Regardless, some industry members we interviewed today feel that OIA has diluted its organizational agenda – and its message to the state of Utah – by not holding them more accountable to measurable actions for wilderness protection in the coming years.

OIA is ready to admit their fondness of Utah’s Recreation Task Force. Some pro-wilderness task force opponents feel that the task force was put into place to appease advocates of outdoor recreation. Many wilderness protection advocates see the Recreation Task Force as pro-development: after all, it’s composed primarily of Utah state and county officials charged with preserving economic health of their constituencies while under their watch – a necessarily short term view that requires long term land management to be ignored.

The task force is charged with maintaining “an eye toward economic development, they will seek to build bridges between the outdoor recreation economy and the traditional western heritage economy of rural Utah.” (For more information on the task force creation and appointments, which were made initially before pro-development Governor Mike Leavitt left office in 2003, see the Utah Governor’s website at www.utah.gov and search for the press release entitled “Governor Affirms Commitment to Outdoor Retailers”, dated December 19, 2003.)

Interestingly, the front page of the Outdoors section of today’s Salt Lake Tribune featured a pro-ATV article boasting of Utah’s off road vehicle opportunities (“The off-road less traveled: ATV riders don’t know it, but there are plenty of trails in Utah”, by Tom Wharton). Is it coincidence that this article appeared on the opening day of a trade show that historically promotes commerce opportunities from human powered sports, which fly in the face of land managers under pressure from the off-highway vehicle (OHV) community to maintain public lands for ATV use? True multi-use land management might be more difficult in the state of Utah than anywhere else in the country: oil, timber, natural gas, off road vehicles, a wealth of threatened species, and exploding population growth create an environment that makes it difficult for wilderness advocates to flex their political muscle, and requires a necessarily cautious approach from organizations like OIA.

The OIA released their state of the market report last week, which reported a downward trend in consumer participation in wilderness activities. Backpacking participation alone has declined 20% over the past six years. Although the reasons for this are complex, we can’t ignore the fact that wilderness protection is vital to maintaining the health of industries dependent on wilderness recreation over the long term. One manufacturer we interviewed, representing an OIA corporate member that asked to remain unnamed, commented on the press release: “OIA’s position fails to address the fundamental problem of wilderness protection in Utah. Aligning with the Leavitt-appointed Task Force, which behind the scenes, appeals to the development, economic, and multi-use interests of the Wise Use movement, is not only a passive response, it’s one that needs to be viewed with a cautious eye to see if OIA has an actual policy agenda inconsistent with its stated agenda that includes wilderness protection.” This opinion may be interpreting the press release with more license than it deserves, but one can’t argue that the OIA is in a pickle between serving the industry’s end-use consumers (those of us that buy the gear and services in order to enjoy the wilderness) and its corporate membership, which is demanding a broader market, that in some cases, may include suburban users of parks and greenways (now recognized as a significant market by OIA – and the state Utah) installed in concert with land development projects.

Kim Coupounas, CEO of GoLite and OIA Board Member, claims OIA’s caution is warranted: “We have an interim governor with a state administration in a state of flux. OIA is cautious not to play hardball to avoid alienating ourselves from the state of Utah.” Ms. Coupounas is right: OIA has finally earned an audience as a potential key influencer of Western economic policy. And OIA now has an audience among policymakers for exerting influence on Western land use issues that they could not have had elsewhere. “The best place for OIA to have the most influence on wilderness protection is where we are able to exert influence (Salt Lake City) that has been hard earned through the years. We wouldn’t have that opportunity in Vegas or somewhere else,” says Ms. Coupounas.

As an OIA member, retailer, and consumer advocate, BackpackingLight.com recognizes the need to promote good outdoor business. However, we urge OIA to proceed more aggressively and take less passive – and more active – positions to protect Utah’s last wild areas. OIA has more muscle than they think – and the fact that they aren’t flexing it during an interim administration demands scrutiny: this is an opportunity that may be lost come election day – not because we expect the administration to change its political face, but because election years offer a platform when more of the Utah public will be paying attention to these critical issues: OIA may do more good in the coming months by creating public awareness for the distressful state of Utah’s wild lands than by massaging the shoulders of an interim governor.


Citation

"Outdoor Retailer Announces Plans to Remain in Salt Lake Through 2009 – Show Floor Space to Increase 40% – Outdoor Industry Association Dilutes Wilderness Protection Message to State of Utah (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2004)," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/outdoor_retailer_2004_press_release_commentary.html, 2004-08-12 03:00:00-06.

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