Montana Joins Hunt to Host Outdoor Retailer

Bullock lobbies to bring massive outdoor trade show to the Treasure State

By Tristan Scott
A hiker along the trail to Grinnell Glacier. Beacon File Photo

Montana has joined the competitive hunt to host the massive Outdoor Retailer trade show, a bid that, if successful, could inject tens of millions of dollars into the state’s economy.

Gov. Steve Bullock expressed interest in hosting the lucrative event after organizers announced they were moving the biannual show from Salt Lake City after Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert fell out of favor with some outdoor industry executives due to his stance on public lands.

Specifically, the group wanted the governor to reverse his call for President Trump to rescind the new Bears Ears National Monument, which has figured prominently into the clarion call issued by opponents of public land transfers.

Because Outdoor Retailer’s contract with Salt Lake City runs through summer 2018, organizers plan to solicit proposals for 2018 and beyond, according to Kate Lowey, communications director for Outdoor Retailer.

Bullock highlighted Montana’s high level of commitment to keeping “public lands in public hands,” which was underscored at a rally on Jan. 30 that drew an estimated crowd of 1,500 to the Helena capitol in support of conservation funding and the creation of an outdoor recreation office. Bullock also cited the state’s strong stream access laws, business climate, talented workforce and Western work ethic.

“We’re rightfully known for our stunning landscapes, but we are also proud of the efforts we have made to ensure Montana is one of the best places to do business — and it remains that way for generations to come,” Bullock wrote in a statement. “The outdoor industry and outdoor manufacturers are thriving in Montana. I would welcome the chance to explore this or other opportunities with the Outdoor Industry Association and its partners.”

The Outdoor Industry Association endorsed Bullock last fall.

Leaders from both Oregon and Colorado have also expressed interest in hosting the event, however, and possess some advantages that set them apart from Montana.

While Montana cities like Bozeman and Missoula are situated in outdoor recreation havens, the state faces certain constraints, such as limited air service and a lack of large convention centers, according to tourism officials.

The Salt Palace, Salt Lake City’s convention center, has 510,600 square feet of exhibit space, though a survey describes it as “somewhat fragmented.” In Denver, the Colorado Convention Center has 584,000 square feet of exhibit space.

But Bullock spokesperson Ronja Abel said possible locations are being assessed, while the spirit of Montana’s support of public lands counters Herbert’s move not to stand down from his call for President Trump to rescind the new Bears Ears National Monument.

According to a statement from Outdoor Retailer, it has not settled on a new venue and is assessing all of its options. Outdoor Retailer will make a decision within 60 to 90 days.

“There are no forgone conclusions about our new location. Choosing a new host city for Outdoor Retailer is a business decision that requires thoughtful consideration of key factors impacting the show including facilities, hotels, transportation, labor costs, environmental policies and the degree to which the host city shares our values. Our goal is to produce a tradeshow that works for our outdoor community,” according to the statement.

The Outdoor Retailer event has grown from 5,000 people at the first show in 1996 to about 29,000 last summer. It attracted an estimated $45 million in annual direct spending to Utah during the two shows held each year.

Montana’s outdoor recreation economy supports 64,000 jobs and nearly $6 billion of economic activity in the state. Each year, approximately 11 million people visit the state’s public lands.

A new poll of voters in Rocky Mountain states found strong bipartisan support for conserving public lands.

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