DENVER — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert acknowledges his state has catching up to do to make its getaways as visible as resort towns like Vail in neighboring Colorado, especially among those who have treated Utah as part of a "flyover zone" between Denver and California.
Herbert spoke to a small group of reporters in Denver and said tourism is a critical part of his economic development efforts. Denver is home to Turner PR, a firm hired to help the Utah Office of Tourism promote the state.
"We hope to make Utah the No. 1 best business destination in America," as well as a top international business destination, Herbert said.
He touted his state's growing high-tech industry, young labor force, relatively low crime rate, recreational opportunities, mass transit and education..
Yet the state faces challenges.
Organizers of the lucrative Outdoor Retailer outdoor gear trade shows, which contribute about $40 million annually into Utah's economy each year, had considered moving the shows out of Utah due to concerns about whether Salt Lake City had enough floor space and nearby lodging for the future. The Boulder, Colo.-based Outdoor Industry Association, which sponsors the retail show, also wanted a commitment from Utah to the outdoor industry.
In January, Herbert released his vision for outdoor recreation in Utah, which led to the appointment of the country's first state director of outdoor recreation.
The release followed the announcement by the company that ran the trade shows that the expos would stay in Salt Lake City through 2016, with the expos gaining floor space through a new exhibition tent. Though Onex Corp. has since bought the company, the commitment for the expos to stay through 2016 remains, said Spencer Eccles, executive director of the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development.
"The longer-term growth trajectory and needs of the show remain a discussion between the outdoor industry and viable venues throughout the country," said Avery Stonich of the Outdoor Industry Association.
Herbert said he thinks Salt Lake City is a "great fit" for outdoor retailers and that while the show could grow larger, it may not want to.
"There's a point of diminishing returns for them too," said Derek Miller, Herbert's chief of staff.
In response to a reporter's question about whether Colorado laws allowing for recreational use of marijuana might lure skiers to Colorado rather than Utah, Herbert said he wasn't worried about it. He said he expects legislators will probably review Utah liquor laws in a few years though, after the state has a chance to see how regulations that were passed this year play out.
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