Brad Petersen used to attend the twice-a-year Outdoor Retailers extravaganza, where camp shirts and trail shoes are standard business attire for fun-under-sun industry.
So, when Petersen strode into the Salt Palace Convention Center Wednesday wearing the dark suit of a governor’s staffer, flanked by a half-dozen colleagues, it was clear change was afoot.
Not just on a personal level, since Peterson was appointed to the new state position of outdoor recreation director, a first in the nation.
But also in a big way, since the outdoor industry regards the position itself as a positive sign Utah is taking the outdoor industry seriously, even though river sandals, not wing tips, still rule the trade show floor.
And, while it wasn’t exactly Kumbaya around the campfire as the Outdoor Retailers summer show went into full swing Wednesday, the public statements between state officials and the industry showed how the two camps have forged a workable relationship despite their differences over the often-tense past year.
Petersen said there’s positive momentum going forward. He comes to the job knowing the industry’s concerns because he has been part of it, both as the chief operating officer of San Diego-based Combined Resources International and as a skier, climber and mountain biker. He also knows Utah, he said, because he grew up here.
“Everybody has been extremely enthusiastic,” said Petersen, adding that the outdoor industry is pleased state leaders acted so swiftly to create his position in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
“I understand what the industry is looking for. I hear them. I get to communicate that back to the governor and the Legislature and they know where the industry as a whole is coming from, and vice versa...Thus far, it’s been all communication-based.”
Kirk Bailey, vice president of government affairs for the Outdoor Industry Association, chimed in.
“I think the governor’s on a very courageous path in terms of trying to find a balance between outdoor recreation and energy development and a variety of other uses that occur on our public lands,” Bailey told reporters before joining Petersen on his walk through the maze of trade-show booths that fills two city blocks.
”It’s going to be a difficult conversation at times. I’d say he’s set the direction, and it’s the right direction.”
About a year ago, the two sides talked about one another not side by side, but in separate, contentious news conferences. Herbert met with the trade group’s leaders behind closed doors to discuss their gripes about lands policies championed by state leaders that jeopardized the very natural resources their businesses rely on, in the industry’s view. The governor and the Legislature were jeopardizing the wild and scenic places that make Utah a magnet for people who love outdoor recreation — as tourists and as a lifestyle choice, they said.
According to a report published by the association in March, outdoor recreation generates $12 billion in spending in Utah. It supports 122,400 jobs, produces $856 million in tax revenue and accounts for about 5 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.
Last summer’s Herbert-industry meeting has led to a series of talks over the past year. It also was the impetus for Herbert’s Outdoor Recreation Vision this winter. The first step was the creation of Peterson’s office, and that brought kudos from all corners.
Darin Heaton toured the trade show floor on Wednesday to find products for Toaquims Village Gift Shop outside of Zion National Park.
He applauded Herbert for creating Petersen’s position. He’s eager to have an advocate for public lands access and for small business who not only has the governor’s ear, but also grasps the importance of the outdoor recreation industry.
“It is a big dent in this state,” he said, making his way around the booths at the trade show. “If the state can capitalize on that, then it’s only going to help small businesses.”
Peter Metcalf, of Holladay-based Black Diamond Inc., helped push the OIA agenda into public view last year, especially with his criticism of the legislation demanding the federal government to turn public lands over to the state.
Wednesday, he said he is pleased that Herbert and the Legislature have taken initial steps toward addressing those concerns, with the Herbert’s Vision and Peterson’s appointment.
“Now it’s time to get on with it,” he said, “and transform this into concrete action.”
Metcalf’s top three ideas for doing so? Stop state-initiated lawsuits over wilderness roads; drop the demand that federal lands be turned over to the state; and create a Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
Those specific ideas are not enumerated in Herbert’s plan. Then again, Petersen’s only been on the job for two weeks. Petersen said his top-three priorities were: keeping the outdoor recreation economy growing; fostering outdoor recreation for tourists and locals; and to be a liaison among industry, outdoor enthusiasts and local government.