OR, which had previously been held in Salt Lake City, moved to Denver in 2017 after organizers with New York-based events company Emerald Expositions LLC decided that continuing to part with a state represented by conservative lawmakers, criticized at the time for weakening protections for the Bears Ears National Monument and other public lands, was optically undesirable for an industry that outwardly champions environmental conservation.
But, with Emerald’s five-year contract with Denver expiring and the cost of doing business rising in the Mile High, the trade show is headed back to Salt Lake City, despite the lack of progress there for public lands protections.
“Salt Lake City and County is our hometown, and we’re going back with a commitment to effecting meaningful change. It would be wrong for us to leave the way we did and simply go back as if nothing happened,” OR organizers said in a blog post Monday. “In reality, leaving after 2017 has not brought the change we had hoped for, so we will push back, not pull back. We firmly believe that staying engaged and collectively contributing to the ongoing discussion, no matter how difficult, is far more constructive.”
Contradicting the OR show organizers’ point regarding the lack of positive change and the need for additional conservation work, Salt Lake City mayor Erin Mendenhall tweeted Wednesday that the show was indicative of “Salt Lake City’s passion for the environment and a climate positive agenda.”
Time will tell if rhetoric from Emerald or local politicians will assuage the companies and groups who opposed the return to Utah.
That seems unlikely for some.
“Our position on the location of the Outdoor Retailer trade show remains clear and unchanged: The show belongs in a state whose top officials value and seek to protect public lands,” Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert said in a prepared statement.
“Our industry places a great deal of value — in fact, it’s a business input — on public lands protections,” Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Boulder-based trade group Outdoor Industry Association, told BizWest last month. “Five years ago, when there was talk of scaling back [protections for public lands in Utah,] our industry and Emerald all agreed that the show should move to a state that significantly valued the protections of public land.”
She added that a return to Utah “would be very difficult for us given how strongly our outdoor businesses, brands, suppliers and manufacturers feel about and depend on the protection of public lands.”
Two dozen companies, including industry titans such as REI Co-op, Patagonia Inc. and The North Face, have signed onto a letter from The Conservation Alliance pledging to boycott any trade show held in Utah so long as “elected officials continue their attacks on national monuments and public lands protections.”
In the letter, Tim Koehler, CEO of Boulder-based Backpacker’s Pantry, wrote, “Almost five years ago, during the 2017 Summer OR Trade Show, the owners of our company took part in the march to the Utah State Capitol. They did this not only because they are hands-on with the running of this family-owned business, but because of the core principles they want to see flourish in our business and in the outdoor Industry as a whole.”
He continued, “While some things have changed in the years since then, including the structure of trade shows, two things have remained the same. Those two constants are that the outdoor industry stands for protection of public lands and that the Utah state government, led by Gov. Spencer Cox, has not worked to protect such public lands. Due to that, we can not support a trade show that returns to the state of Utah.”
The OR summer show will take place June 9-11 in Denver at the Colorado Convention Center before moving to Salt Lake City for the winter show in January 2023.