SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of the latest and greatest whiz-bang camping gear and related products will be featured this week when what's been billed as the world's largest gathering of outdoor sports industry professionals returns to Utah.
The Outdoor Industry Association's Outdoor Retailer Summer Market kicks off with an Open Air Demo Wednesday at Jordanelle State Park, where the first of its kind Paddle Pedal Challenge will combine stand-up paddle boarding with bike racing. That alone will have 200 brands represented, representing a 50 percent increase over the year before.
After that, an estimated 25,000 manufacturers, retailers and suppliers will strut their stuff at the trade show that runs Thursday through Sunday.
The show is the largest convention in Utah, an annual event staged in Salt Lake City since the mid-1990s that has successfully weathered a deadly tornado in 1999 and the nation's economic downturn that had consumers clutching more tightly to their pocketbooks.
Although the show and its title sponsor, the Outdoor Industry Association, threatened to pull out of Utah over objections to the state's political position on wilderness issues in 2003, both the winter and summer markets will remain in Salt Lake City through 2014.
That loyalty, in part forged through an expansion of the Salt Palace to accommodate close to 1,300 vendors on the exhibitor list, is a big economic boost for the state.
The winter and summer markets bring as much as $40 million in direct visitor spending to Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas — guests who fill up hotel rooms, patronize restaurants and buy souvenirs to bring home. Figures provided by the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research indicate a Salt Lake convention delegate in 2010 spent $923 during an average three-day stay.
Officials at the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, a private nonprofit agency that partners with the state and local governments to attract businesses to Utah, say the impacts of the shows are far reaching.
Exposure to the state's recreational opportunities when summer and winter are in full swing lures exhibitors back for repeat visits or to even relocate their companies here.
"When you combine the incredible natural surroundings of Salt Lake and the Wasatch mountains, our destination is the perfect place for this unique gathering of outdoor-related businesses and retailers," said Scott Beck, president and chief executive officer of Visit Salt Lake.
Show spokeswoman Ginger Conrad said the numbers of stores participating in the summer market is on the rise — up 8 percent from last year — and stores are sending more buyers — an increase of 11 percent over 2010.
"The interest keeps growing and growing," she said.
A new exhibitor pavilion debuts this year, expanding the geographic footprint of the event. The covered outdoor exhibit space is north of the convention center on 200 West between North Temple and South Temple. Conrad said an estimated 150 brands will be on display in the pavilion and 200 brand exhibitors are on board to be first-time participants in the show.
Overall, the state's outdoor recreation economy is a vital revenue booster. According to the association it:
Generates $5.8 billion for Utah's economy
Supports 65,000 jobs across the state
Produces $300 million in annual state tax revenues
Produces $4 billion annually in retail sales and services across Utah
Last month, Utah was identified as the No. 1 state in the country for the economic benefit it derives from public lands managed by the U.S. Department of Interior. The report by the agency said $1.7 billion in economic impact was generated from those lands alone in 2010.