State of Utah Responds to The Last Outdoor Retailer Show (AUDIO)

The Danner footwear exhibit at the Last Outdoor Retailer show at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Utah. The two-level structure is supported by 12X12 beams representing more than three tons of drayage and requires a locally-sourced installation and dismantle crew. Photo by Utah Political Capitol.

It was a lost piece of big business that represents an enormous opportunity cost for the state

Ed note: Utah Political Capitol embedded a reporter within the installation and dismantle crews for the last Outdoor Retailer Show in Utah. This report is the result of that close-up, eyewitness effort

On Wednesday, August 2, 2017 the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) issued a song of praise and support to the state’s outdoor recreation industry, much of which uses Utah as a base camp for corporate headquarters and manufacturing centers along the Wasatch Front. During the previous week, more than 3,000 exhibitors at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City said their goodbyes as they dismantled their exhibits and headed for Denver in January. GOED’s announcement was widely seen as an olive branch resulting from bad feelings when the state’s legislature, coupled with the governor’s office, issued proclamations to have the newest federal land designation, Bears Ears National Monument, revisited by the new Trump administration.

Many enthusiasts felt that those shouting “LAND GRAB!” had no basis to make that claim since the acreage in question involved public lands to begin with, but the effect of losing the Outdoor Retailer Show went straight to injure the economy of Salt Lake City and Utah itself. The exhibitors made their point known that while they will miss bringing their goods and service displays to Salt Lake City, their commitment to public land management through the preservation of wild places is ongoing. On the last Thursday of the show, several hundred of the attendees marched from the Salt Palace Convention Center to the state capitol building to display their concerns. Amy Roberts, the executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association and who previously participated in the now infamous phone call with Utah Governor Gary Herbert, explained that the march represented “our collective conviction that public lands belong to every citizen of the United States,” she emphasized that in addition to being the foundation of their industry, “[public lands] are fundamental to our national heritage.” Congress had been involved in the decision, they maintain and it decided to leave the national monument designation (originally requested by native tribal leaders) to the Obama administration.

Fundamental Economics

Val Hale, Executive Director of GOED, said in a statement released on Wednesday that “The state doesn’t take lightly its role as an outdoor industry leader. Earlier this year, the state legislature created the Outdoor Recreation Grant, which is expected to generate up to $5 million each year for the next five years to support recreation infrastructure statewide.” That may be, but the trade show loss represents far more.

One source close to Visit Salt Lake’s sub-contractors (those involved in the setup and takedown of the most recent show’s exhibits) indicated that the show was smaller than in previous years. After interviewing sources at Freeman, the trade show general contractor and others which contribute labor and drayage services, best estimates indicate that more than two million pounds of freight went into and out of the Salt Palace Convention Center for the last Outdoor Retailer show in Utah at an estimated cost of $45 per 100 pounds. It won’t happen again, now that the show (and that money) is going to Denver. Accountants refer to this as “opportunity cost” and many in Utah blame their elected representatives for the loss.

The Worker Bees Left Alone

Adam Swillinger, head of LASER Exhibitor Services of Utah, will not be able to hire Utahns for the OR show when it leaves for Denver

To handle all of that freight, Utahns have turned the Salt Palace into a beehive of activity and gone to work twice each year for the past twenty years. Additionally, common carriers from around the world are put in motion to bring the exhibit materials in.

Adam Swillinger, head of Laser Exhibitor Services of Utah and creator of more than 100 full-time jobs in the “installation and dismantle” sector, was in high gear for several weeks ahead of the most recent (and now last) convention. He will coordinate a transition with Laser’s Denver office after building his own Salt Lake business for all of those twenty years. Swillinger told Utah Political Capitol that while the Salt Palace management may have trade shows scheduled to fill the gap created by the loss of Outdoor Retailer, none that he’s aware of represent the freight and construction logistics that would require so many specialized drivers, builders, electricians and support personnel.

Before the colony collapse which allowed the show organizers to escape to Denver, more outdoor convention business was being discussed …but Interbike and others are now looking elsewhere to mount their shows (Interbike will be in Reno for 2017).

In addition to exhibitor services like Laser, other local businesses like Atmosphere and one called Momentum — employed many Utahns to handle the logistics of such a large show. But the Outdoor Retailers show also infused outside funds into the beehive state; attracting installation and dismantle service organizers from as far away as Florida.

Pressure Delivered to the Salt Lake Convention Center

As these shows go, none really compare to the Outdoor Retailers. The Salt Palace schedule now reflects meetings for doTerra and Young Living, two local Utah businesses utilizing multi-level marketing personnel, but no large exhibit construction on the same scale. Not even the popular and continually growing Salt Lake Comic Con scheduled for September will have the same economic impact as the Outdoor Retailers show.

The net effect is that far fewer people will be employed in the installation and dismantle sector when there is little or no “crate and freight” effort to be made and businesses like Swillinger’s will take a large hit. Some of the personnel suppliers point to the development of a convention center hotel in Salt Lake City as a premiere attraction for the 75 member Trade Show Exhibitors Association and the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, both organizations which could influence Utah’s booking of larger shows.

John Walbrecht, current President and CEO of BLACK DIAMOND, headquartered in Salt Lake City — file photo

John Walbrecht, CEO of Black Diamond which has corporate and manufacturing headquarters in Salt Lake City, summarized the effect of the Outdoor Industry Association’s decision to move the show to Colorado. “We can integrate much better here [in Salt Lake City] we can entertain much better here, it’s going to be tougher… it will be more expensive.” Walbrecht said that he didn’t believe for a second that Utah didn’t want the show to remain in the state but Outdoor Industry Association had made the decision. He describes the show’s relocation as a loss to Black Diamond and its employees.

To hear all of Utah Political Capitol’s interview with John Walbrecht, click here:

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