Colorado’s coup

The Outdoor Retailer trade shows and their $45 million annual economic impact are heading to Denver, instantly giving Colorado a brand identity synonymous with playing outside.

Outdoor recreation was already a big deal in Colorado — responsible for $28 billion in consumer spending in the state annually — but the move enhances the state’s growing reputation as a thought leader in leveraging public lands to nurture the outdoor recreation industry, promoting economic growth and a desirable lifestyle along the way.

Thursday’s announcement comes six months after the show’s organizers and industry leaders decided to leave Salt Lake City to protest Utah elected officials’ stance on public lands — the industry’s bread and butter.

It’s a coup of the first order. This isn’t a home run for Denver, but a grand slam for the entire state made possible by a full-court press of state officials and Colorado’s congressional delegation emphasizing the state’s commitment to public lands — no easy task in a state with a substantial oil and gas presence.

But this was no overnight success either. Gov. John Hickenlooper laid the groundwork by establishing Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office in 2015 and naming Luis Benitez director. Benitez spearheaded the effort to land the trade shows once organizers signaled a desire to leave Utah after 21 years.

The trade shows won’t just benefit the Front Range economy, said Sarah Shader, owner of Grand Junction-based Bonsai Design and a member of Colorado’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry Advisory Council. Aside from putting suppliers and retailers together, the trade shows become host to political discussions and policy forums where conversations can turn to conservation efforts, diversifying rural economies and attracting a millennial workforce.

The shows are more of an industry summit, making Colorado ground-zero for game-changing ideas that may take root near the places where people want to play — something Colorado has in abundance.

“The Grand Valley stands to benefit from Outdoor Retailer being in Colorado because of the message it sends about the values this state has,” she said. “Mesa County is 74 percent public land and regardless of political affiliation, the people here value our public lands. It galvanizes our community brand.”

While Colorado may be the perfect state to incubate “thought leadership” on a host of issues as Shrader contends, the Grand Valley is most likely to benefit from this state-level push to develop the outdoor recreation economy once the city of Grand Junction establishes a business park that will cater to outdoor industry manufacturers.

Grand Junction is close to fully actualizing the recommendations of the North Star Destination Strategies report calling for outdoor amenities to become a natural focal point of economic development efforts. 

We have an opportunity to ride the coattails of the Outdoor Retailer coup, not because of dumb luck, but because local leaders like Sarah Shrader have worked tirelessly to prove the value of outdoor recreation in our own backyard.


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