Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — When you are home to the “greatest snow on earth,” it draws attention from thousands of people in the outdoor recreation industry. And that spells prestige and dollars for Salt Lake City's multimillion dollar convention business.
An estimated 22,000 manufacturers, retailers and suppliers to the outdoor industry will descend on Utah this week for the annual Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 expo that runs Wednesday through Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
The winter market — the second-largest convention in the state behind only the Outdoor Retailer summer event — generates more than $20 million in direct spending for Salt Lake City and the state of Utah, according to Visit Salt Lake, the city's visitors and convention bureau.
Total spending figures are based on surveys of convention delegates conducted by the University of Utah’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research during the past five years that indicate the average visitor spends $923 while attending a convention in Salt Lake City.
This week's event also features U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, keynote speaker who will address outdoor enthusiasts Wednesday. Jewell, former CEO of REI, spoke in October of the need to entice the next generation to appreciate and preserve America's outdoor resources and is expected to echo those comments she made at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
“President Obama believes that we have a moral obligation to the next generation to leave our land, water, and wildlife better than we found it,” Jewell said.
Focusing on recreation
Since moving the summer and winter markets to Salt Lake City in 1996, direct delegate spending by Outdoor Retailer attendees has totaled more than $468 million, accounting for nearly $43.6 million in city, county and state taxes, said Scott Beck, president and chief executive officer for Visit Salt Lake.
“When it first came to Salt Lake, this trade show had about 6,000 attendees and was about a 200,000-square-foot show,” said Beck. “In 2014, we’re now at 22,000 people and nearly a 750,000-square-foot show.”
He said the growth in the Outdoor Retailer shows a strong bond with Utah from trade professionals who attend each year.
“It means you have an incredible place — the Salt Lake regional area — that people in the industry feel very much connected to as a destination,” Beck said. “This incredible marketplace for the products is what really make this show important for us.”
Despite being closed to the public, the winter event and its larger sibling, the summer market, together produced about $45 million in delegate spending last year.
"What makes being here special is that the people of this state live and breathe outdoor recreation, which resonates so well with the industry audience,” said Kenji Haroutunian, Outdoor Retailer show director and vice president of Emerald Expositions, which puts on the event.
Meanwhile, as legislators in Utah and across the country begin their annual lawmaking sessions, some outdoor advocates connected with the winter market said outdoor recreation can and should be an economic strategy for every state in the nation.
The Outdoor Industry Association recently released The Outdoor Recreation Economy, a report showing that outdoor recreation is a major economic driver in the United States — and one that has grown throughout the recession.
“Right now, policymakers are considering devastating budget cuts to public lands funding that could ripple for years and negatively affect the outdoor businesses that depend on them,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, Outdoor Industry Association president and chief executive officer. “It’s more important than ever to make the link between a well-funded and well-managed national outdoor recreation system and the economic contributions that outdoor recreation makes to local communities.”
Last January, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Hugelmeyer's group jointly issued "Utah's Outdoor Recreation Vision," which included a committment by the Outdoor Retailers to keep its conventions in Utah through at least 2016.
The governor's plan included 40 recommendations, including the creation of the Office of Outdoor Recreation. It also recommended finding ways to increase funding for Utah's state parks. Herbert later gained praise last October for funding and getting Utah's national parks open during the federal government shutdown Oct. 1 through 16.
The Outdoor Industry Association representatives said Utah outdoor recreation fuels economic growth by contributing $12 billion annually to the state’s economy, supporting 122,400 jobs, generating $856 million in annual state and local tax revenues, and producing $3.6 billion annually in state wages and salaries.
According to Visit Salt Lake, total delegate spending for the top 10 conventions of 2013 totaled more than $111.3 million.
The top five conventions all draw in excess of 11,000 attendees and generated at least $10 million in delegate spending.
The Nu Skin International event ranked third last year with 16,100 attendees with delegates spending $14.86 million, followed by the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo which drew almost 13,600 attendees and generated $12.53 million, while the fifth-ranked convention — the doTERRA Annual Meeting — had 11,500 attendees with delegate spending of $10.61 million.
The sixth through tenth-ranked conventions were significantly smaller in scale with between 4,700 attendees to 6,800 attendees while generating between $4.34 million to $6.28 million annually.
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