More companies pull out of Outdoor Retailer show over Utah policies

Conventions • More sellers leave; others plan to attend, urging the state to reconsider its stance on public lands.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune Attendees file in to to the Outdoor Retailer event at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City Tuesday January 11, 2017.

Several outdoor gear companies followed Patagonia's lead and announced Thursday and Friday that they would no longer attend the Outdoor Retailer shows in Salt Lake City to protest public-lands positions promoted by Utah's elected officials, led by Gov. Gary Herbert.

At the same time, some heavy hitters in the industry, including REI and The North Face, say they will continue to participate because they see a boycott as harmful to smaller companies. They support efforts by the Outdoor Industry Association to look for another city to host the lucrative conferences, which purport to bring 45,000 visitors and $40 million annually.

Organizers announced last week that they were seeking proposals from other cities for the twice-yearly shows, a move largely in reaction to the persistent opposition to the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument from Utah leaders.

Patagonia was the first to announce its boycott, tagging it to a resolution passed last week by the Utah Legislature and signed by Herbert, urging President Donald Trump to rescind Bears Ears. One day after Patagonia's announcement, the Utah Senate approved a similar resolution seeking a reduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Other companies have followed Patagonia's lead.

"We're going to join Patagonia in boycotting Outdoor Retailer shows in Utah, unless and until Gov. Herbert stops fighting against the [Bears Ears] National Monument, or convincingly moves to protect the land through effective state actions," Peak Design CEO Peter Dering wrote on the San Francisco backpack-and-luggage producer's company blog. "And we intend to get all our friends to join us."

But Herbert called the companies' actions a "political ploy" that ignores massive efforts by the state to protect public lands and public access to them.

"I think the accusation that we are, in fact, trying to take away access to public lands … does not stand up under scrutiny," Herbert said this week, listing several state projects he says help preserve wild lands and access.

He says he plans to meet with industry leaders next week in hopes of keeping the conference in Utah, where it has been for two decades.

Other companies that don't intend on displaying their products at the next Salt Lake show include: Vancouver-based Arc'teryx, which produces outerwear and other clothing; Polartec Fabrics, of Lawrence, Mass.; Power Practical, which makes portable power and lighting devices in Salt Lake City; Metolius Climbing, of Bend, Ore.; Denver-based Kokopelli Packraft; and Bedrock Sandles, of Richmond, Calif.

Economically, it's counterintuitive for a Utah company to boycott a convention in its own state, acknowledged Power Practical CEO Matt Ford — but the loss is worth making the political stand, he said.

"It's a bummer, to be honest," Ford said. "Having a show here is really convenient for a small company. It'd be a lose-lose for us if it goes someplace else."

But, he said, "this company started in the Utah backcountry. That's what started our first products, and the team is passionate about this issue."

Salt Lake City-based Cotopaxi said the show's departure could "undermine" the state's reputation and economy.

"In an effort to build a thriving ecosystem for businesses while protecting the beautiful places we live and work, let us work together to create solutions," Cotopaxi's CEO Davis wrote in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, adding that "Cotopaxi stands in support of the Bears Ears monument together with others in the outdoor industry."

Still other outdoor product companies said they planned to come to future shows to rally for more recreation-friendly land-use policies in Utah.

"The Outdoor Retailer show plays a special role in the outdoor community," said Jerry Stritzke, CEO of REI. "It is the one time and place that we come together across all elements of our industry. ... I believe it would be a mistake for us not to gather as an industry this July. Now, more than ever, we need to act together to advocate and find a common voice to protect our most important asset — our public lands. To be clear, REI is strongly in the camp of moving OR if Utah persists in attacking our public lands — the sooner the better."

Vermont-based Ibex Outdoor Clothing says it will attend with a reduced team and budget, channeling funds instead to the Conservation Alliance Public Lands Defense Fund and leaving its booth early to protest.

"Outdoor Retailer cannot stay in Utah," stated Ted Manning, Ibex's CEO. "And until it moves out of the state, we as a company are taking decisive action to stand up for our public lands and conservation."

The Outdoor Industry Association's board applauded the stance taken by Ibex, REI and The North Face, releasing a letter that said: "As our industry has grown and matured, our voice has gotten stronger and louder. Our messages are reaching a broad audience and having impact with the public and with policymakers. But that impact will dissolve if we don't stick together now. Boycotting the Outdoor Retailer show will hurt our industry and the credibility we've worked so hard to build."

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune Attendees file in to to the Outdoor Retailer event at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City Tuesday January 10, 2017.