SALT LAKE CITY — With the final Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Utah coming to a close this weekend, show organizers are offering high praise to their longtime business partner.
After more than 20 years as host city for the outdoor recreation industry's signature expo, Salt Lake City will end its relationship with the biannual trade show.
And while events that led to the show's departure may have been contentiously political in nature, those feelings are not as strong as the positive reflections being extolled by some high-ranking show executives.
"It's a real feeling of melancholy to be quite honest," said Darrell Denny, executive vice president for Emerald Expositions, which owns the Outdoor Retailer shows. "Salt Lake City is a fantastic town with a great convention facility."
Early this year, organizers of the annual summer and winter trade shows announced they would be ending their 22-year run in Utah and moving the shows to Colorado. The decision followed months of political posturing and acrimony between show organizers and state leaders over public lands in general and monument designations in particular.
Denny noted that the city has grown as a venue for large conventions over the years, and Emerald Expositions has gained valuable insights on putting on a large-scale event that serves tens of thousands of participants.
"We've all learned how to do things that we weren't even sure were possible before we got together and did those things," he said, calling that growth "super positive."
"Salt Lake now has the sense of confidence and experience of being able to bring to fruition events that are more complicated and larger than it would have at one time thought would have been the case," Denny said.
Because the process had its challenges over the years, both sides have learned to be creative in their approach to solutions, he said.
Salt Lake City also has been instrumental in the Outdoor Retailer shows' growth into high-profile events, Denny said.
"And Outdoor Retailer has been instrumental in Salt Lake being able to realize its fuller potential from an event (hosting) standpoint," he said.
During their run in Salt Lake City, the summer and winter events have generated more than $565 million in direct delegate spending, accounting for more than $52 million in city, county and state taxes, according to data compiled by Visit Salt Lake.
Total visitor spending figures are based on surveys of convention delegates conducted by the University of Utah’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
Nationally, the outdoor industry is responsible for billions of dollars in economic impact, according to a Recreation Economy Report. The industry accounts for 6.1 million direct American jobs, $646 billion in annual direct consumer spending, $39.9 billion in federal tax revenue, and $39.7 billion in state and local tax revenue, the report stated.
With so much at stake economically, replacing the large annual events will be challenging for local event bookers, but Denny said Salt Lake City is an undervalued convention destination that's primed to attract other major events.
"There are some unique things about Salt Lake City that a lot of people in the event industry don't fully know or appreciate," he said. Noting the "relaxed" labor rules in Utah compared with other unionized convention locales, prospective attendees save significantly when they come to Utah over other convention sites, Denny explained.
"What that results in is one of the lowest labor costs and most pleasant move-in, move-out experiences that exhibitors will have," he said. "That's a huge benefit (and) a lot of money that companies save. That's a huge plus."
Because of the positive experiences of the past two decades, Denny there is a distinct possibility that Emerald Expositions will conduct business in Salt Lake City in the not so distant future. But for now, he laments the breakdown of discussions that led to the departure of the shows to Colorado.
"This whole exercise might have the unintended consequence of affecting business (in Utah)," Denny said. "The biggest disappointment about this whole situation is that we found ourselves at loggerheads instead of being able to work together collectively.
"For me, there is no anger or anything else. But there is a little disappointment that we all couldn't figure out how to rise to the occasion," he said. "It's my hope that we'll continue to work and maybe figure out how to make that happen in the long term."
Political partisanship recently has affected the state and the country on a variety of levels, Denny noted, preventing opposing sides from being able to work more collaboratively for mutually beneficial solutions. That same kind of thinking may well have been at least partly responsible for the breakdown of the relationship between Utah and Outdoor Retailer.
"At some point, I hope we learn that bipartisanship is really the only thing that will (create) solutions that will stand the test of time and aren't just continuing to be subjects for tug of war," Denny said.