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An improved economy and strong sales are driving attendance at the annual Outdoor Retailer Summer Market convention in Salt Lake City to a record 25,000 people, show officials said Friday.
The show, which runs Thursday to Sunday, is expected to dump $23 million into the area economy, said Visit Salt Lake, the private nonprofit local convention and visitors bureau.
The annual gathering is the Salt Lake area's largest convention a showcase for makers of outdoor gear and services to get together with retailers to preview new products and place orders.
Kenji Haroutunian, vice president of the show's owner, Nielsen Expositions, said the projected attendance this year is based on registration at hotels and pre-registration for the show.
"We have hit a landmark in pre-registrations for retailers with 10,000," he said. "We've never hit the 10,000 number before."
But registration also is up 10 percent or more from last year in other areas, including about 200 more exhibitors who each typically send three or four people to the event.
Last year, 21,000 people attended. Horoutunian said the improving economy and factors such as people looking for recreational activities closer to home have been driving outdoor product sales.
"The industry typically goes into a recession later than other parts of the economy, and it comes out earlier," he said, adding that consumers look for lower-cost, simple activities like camping and hiking instead of more costly trips.
Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association the sponsor of the summer and winter shows in Salt Lake City said strong sales are driving the industry.
"Since the downturn, outdoor recreation has outpaced the U.S. economy and recovery during that time," he said.
The industry has $289 billion in annual sales of goods and services in the United States, Hugelmeyer said, with $46 billion of that in outdoor recreation gear. In Utah, the industry has $4 billion in annual sales of goods and services, and supports 65,000 jobs.
Outdoor recreation sales grew 6 percent last year, he said.
"That's really what's growing the size of the show," said Hugelmeyer. "We're one of the leaders of economic recovery in the country."
But Horoutunian pointed out that the growth has been so great that the show this year is setting up a big outdoor facility in a parking lot near the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City that will accommodate 200 exhibitors.
The growth is forcing sponsors to take a hard look at the direction of the show, he said.
"We're examining our collective navel on what's next and how do we grow and is it important to continue to grow and, if it is, how can we continue to do that in Salt Lake City how can we do it outside of Salt Lake City if we have to," Horoutunian said.
The growth of the trade show that first came here in 1996 drove a $58 million expansion of the Salt Palace in 2006 that added 145,000 square feet of exhibit space. But even two years ago, the show had outgrown that space.
Horoutunian said most people at the show like coming to Salt Lake City, "but I think we have some serious reality to come to grips with."
The show has a contract with the Salt Palace through 2014.
Outdoor Retailer winter and summer show attendance
Winter • 14,138
Summer • 20,439
Winter • 17,431
Summer • 21,614
Winter • 17,382
Summer • 20,957
Winter • 15,779
Summer • 18,472
Winter • 16,936
Summer • 21,465
Winter • 18,000
Summer • 25,000
Sources: Visit Salt Lake, Nielsen Expositions