State doing its share to help us play to our economic strengths

A few years ago, I got to attend Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City.

Outdoor Retailer, or OR, is the premier trade show for the outdoor recreation industry. I expected a normal trade show with rows and rows of booths mostly consisting of branded pop-up tents and a few displays. Instead, I stumbled through thousands and thousands of square feet of what felt like a crazy Cirque de Soleil show instead of your typical trade show.

OR is a trade show like no other and the place where brands such as Patagonia and The North Face unveil their latest products in amazing booth displays full of incredibly fit sales people showing you how everything works.

One sunglasses manufacturer built a two story cabin that looked like it belonged somewhere in the Everglades, complete with wrap around decks with Adirondack chairs, a boat and coolers full of cold beer. It made me want to just sit back with a fishing pole all day. A running shoe manufacturer installed a stage with what must be the largest treadmill in the world and at certain times throughout the day had a dozen runners performing the strangest choreographed running dance performance I had ever seen. There were huge above-ground pools where at any time you could find 8-10 people trying out the newest stand-up paddle boards and they even scheduled yoga sessions that took place on the paddle boards! Who knew? I wandered around for three days through the maze of new products and I still don’t think I saw everything there was to see.

More than 40,000 industry people attend OR. It’s where the brands unveil their latest products, the media come to report on those products and buyers from outdoor recreation retail stores attend to purchase those products. And it happens not once a year like most trade shows, but twice a year in order to break up the spring/summer products from the fall/winter products. It’s the granddaddy of all trade shows. Have I made that clear yet?

Last winter, after 20 years in Salt Lake City, Emerald Expositions — the company that owns OR — very publicly announced that they would be leaving Salt Lake City in protest of what they considered an attack on public lands by the state leadership of Utah. They would be looking for a new home that had both the infrastructure necessary to support the behemoth of a trade show and policies on public lands that aligned with their audience.

This past Thursday, they announced in a press conference with Gov. John Hickenlooper that they had found that partnership in Denver.

This is a big, big win for Colorado and the culmination of a strategy put into place years ago by the governor to focus on our own outdoor recreation industry.

Colorado was the second state to create an office of outdoor industry (interestingly after Utah created the first) and we’ve felt the love from that office all the way over here in western Colorado after a history of not feeling like the Front Range even knows we’re here.

Executive Director Luis Benitez is a regular over here working with our own Outdoor Recreation Coalition of the Grand Valley and recently scheduled the second annual Colorado Outdoor Industry Leadership Summit to take place this fall in Downtown Grand Junction.

The Colorado Tourism Office’s ad campaign, unveiled last fall, focuses on outdoor tourism beyond the usual destinations and included Colorado National Monument in a stunning photographic campaign plastered in well-read national publications.

The Governor’s Tourism Conference will be held in Grand Junction this fall bringing tourism leaders from across the state to see what we have to offer. It’s no accident that there’s a coordinated effort at the state level to promote western Colorado. We continue to lag behind the rest of the state in terms of economic growth and state leaders see tourism and the quality of life offered here as our way to grow a healthy and steady economy. We continue to benefit from those efforts at a time when we desperately need it.

Anyone who reads this column with any regularity knows that I often criticize our local leaders for being overly risk averse at a time when we need some risk-taking to launch us out of this pit we wallow in while the Front Range continues to burst at the seams.

I understand that thinking outside of the box and taking risks in the form of public investment is a nerve-wracking endeavor for those entrusted with the public’s money. After all, what if the risk taking is not successful?

However, need I point to the four ballot measures hitting us this year for more funding as proof that our conservative way of thinking hasn’t done us any favors. So it’s time to try something new and take those risks. Especially when the stars have aligned and state leadership has made advances to help hedge those bets and better ensure our success.  Outdoor Retailer, the Governor’s Tourism Conference and the Colorado Industry Leadership Summit are all long-term strategies that will pay dividends for decades to come. It’s time to get on board. The train has departed the station!

Robin Brown owns Brown House Public Relations & Events, which promotes western Colorado as an incredible place to live, work, and play. Email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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