Moving Outdoor Retailer out of Utah carries risk for OIA

By Bart Taylor | Feb 13, 2017

If Utah's political leadership was under the impression that any short-term damage relating to its opposition to Bears Ears National Monument would fade away, Amy Roberts, executive director of Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association, put that notion to rest last week.

In a memo to OIA stakeholders, Roberts said OIA would move Outdoor Retailer from its Salt Lake City location in 2019:

As you read earlier this week, Outdoor Retailer is proactively looking for a new home. We owe it to our members to move the show in a timely and responsible way.

I wrote last month about Outdoor Retailer's influence. Moving OR will be a huge loss for Utah.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert hopes to patch things up with OIA this week. He'll have to assuage Roberts, who wasn't thrilled with her reception by Utah's legislative delegation recently in Washington D.C. He’ll also make the case, as he did in a newspaper editorial Sunday, that Utah's support of public lands is misunderstood, suggesting his administration hasn’t done a good job communicating that Utah values its public lands heritage.

It's a hard argument to make, given the lively debate throughout Utah the past couple years relating to the Public Lands Initiative (PLI), proposed federal legislation that codified Herbert's perspective and those of Utah congressional leaders Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz. All of Utah also weighed-in on the issue. No Governor in America has been more clear on public lands than Herbert.

It's the PLI to which opponents, including OIA, object. A year ago, Roberts outlined OIA's concerns in an otherwise cordial letter to Congressmen Bishop and Chaffetz. "We would like to express our gratitude to you and your staff in particular, for the time, energy and resources that have gone towards crafting the Public Lands Initiative (PLI) over the past few years," Roberts wrote, but then took pains to "point out some of our biggest concerns with the proposed legislation," including:

The Antiquities Act and the Wilderness Act are fundamental laws that support the outdoor recreation industry, the recreation economy and important recreation assets that are in the national interest. Rollbacks of grazing, wildfire or air quality restrictions that seek to amend or are not aligned with the Wilderness Act or any diminishment of the Antiquities Act will not be supported by OIA.

In the end the Public Lands Initiative died in the finals days of Congressional debate last year. But when President Obama used the Antiquities Act to establish Bears Ears National Monument only weeks later, and Utah leadership doubled down with dramatic opposition, OIA leaders mobilized in protest and signaled plans to move Outdoor Retailer from Utah.

They're following up, and it's a bitter pill. Herbert's own move to establish an Office of Outdoor Recreation, to in part support outdoor industry, was a master stroke, copied last year by Colorado. Brad Peterson, the first executive director of the Office, and Tom Adams, his successor, have been effective in bringing parties together and recruiting business. OR's move may disappoint Gov. Herbert, but no more than Adams. We spoke last week. I had to ask whether the Office of Outdoor Recreation supported the administration's position. Adams responded, simply, "We support the Public Lands Initiative." (It was a dumb question; they are the administration.)

As principled a move OIA would suggest moving OR is, it carries risk. If Utah's unfit to host OR, what of industry's choices? Must member actions comport with the "principles" established here? What of decisions to invest in offshore manufacturing, for example, if a company has a choice? It can be everything brands avoid. Sustainable and authentic, it's often not.

There are important exceptions. Last month, Peter Metcalf, founder of Utah's Black Diamond, was out front bemoaning Utah's fitness to host OR. Metcalf's a powerful spokesperson. As we chronicled in 2015, Black Diamond made the difficult decision to reshore hard-goods manufacturing from Asia to Utah. It's a gutsy, meaningful move that if copied more, would send outdoor industry into a new economic stratosphere.

At minimum, as OIA moves OR, it should ask its most powerful members to accelerate efforts to invest in local communities and domestic supply chains in support of U.S.-inspired brands. Otherwise, selective actions like moving OR are no more than posturing. The move from Utah divests in a community that's been a worthy host.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Contact him at