Interior Secretary opens Outdoor Retailers winter convention

Posted at 6:18 PM, Jan 22, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-22 20:18:11-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell walked quickly through the Salt Palace, a stream of news cameras trying to keep up.

Attending the opening day of the Outdoor Retailers Winter Market, Jewell would stop at booths for major outdoor companies, shaking hands or hugging people, and asking for financial support for her initiatives to create a youth conservation corps with the support of private dollars.

"It's great to be in sunny Utah," she told reporters at a news conference Wednesday. "I wish the air quality was better, but I know you're working on that."

Jewell spoke about a number of environmental issues, including public lands use and whether the federal government would repay Utah for keeping the national parks open during the government shutdown.

"I cannot obligate the federal government to pay anything. I told Governor Herbert that," she said. "I will say Utah benefited tremendously from having the parks open."

Jewell was also scheduled to meet with Governor Gary Herbert on Wednesday afternoon to talk about public lands and other Western issues.

The Outdoor Retailers Winter Market is one of Utah's largest conventions, bringing with it thousands of people and millions of dollars to the local economy. The Outdoor Industry Association, which puts on the private trade show, has been critical of Utah's environmental policies in the past -- even threatening to leave the state.

But in an interview with FOX 13 on Wednesday, Outdoor Industry Association President and CEO Frank Hugelmeyer said progress has been made. He noted that the group honored Governor Herbert on Tuesday night for his creation of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation.

"The issues of environmental sustainability and that ethos is very strong in our industry," Hugelmeyer said. "Our work with Utah, we're very pleased with the progress. There's obviously more to be done when you look at things like air quality."

Hugelmeyer pointed out that the outdoor recreation industry is a multi-billion dollar business. In Utah alone, he said, it brings in $12 billion to the economy. The group is contracted to stay in Salt Lake City through 2016.

"We really love the state of Utah and Salt Lake City," he said. "We bring 25,000 people per show, drive $40 million into the local economy. That's important to the state and city."

Hugelmeyer said the Outdoor Industry Association is supporting a convention center hotel, something the Utah State Legislature is expected to consider in the upcoming session. The Utah Taxpayers Association has said state funding to build a mega-hotel would negatively affect neighboring hotels.

"We do need help in more hotel rooms, so we're working with the governor and the legislature to try to build a convention center hotel," Hugelmeyer said. "It's actually not only important for us but important for the community because it's what we hear other trade shows needing to be able to come in and visit Salt Lake City."