America’s Love For The Outdoors, And The Gear To Play There, Is A Growing Economic Force

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Photo: Outdoor Retailer projection on McNichols (AP Photo)
A countdown clock is projected on the side of the McNichols Civic Center building as guests arrive at a welcome party to mark the opening of the Outdoor Retailer and Snow Show Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, in downtown Denver. A group of outdoor industry leaders and conservation organizations projected the countdown clock in protest of President Donald Trump's recent removal of vast portions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments in Utah.

It’s no secret Coloradans love the outdoors, and it turns out that across the country the outdoor recreation industry is becoming a big economic and political driver.

New government figures out last week show the multi-billion dollar industry contributed 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2016. This comes on the heels of the Outdoor Retailer trade show which filled the Colorado Convention Center in Denver last month, which filled all three floors of the Colorado Convention Center - a first in the facility's history. This was Denver's first year to host the country's largest outdoor and winter sports trade show. Salt Lake City had hosted it since 1996. The show left Utah in protest over Gov. Gary Herbert's support of President Trump's plan to shrink Bears Ears National Monument.

Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, had a significant role in shaping the experience of the show including conversations focused on LGBTQ issues, public lands, water, climate change and more.There were more than 29,000 attendees, 7,500 verified retail buyers from 60 countries and 1,000 brands represented for four days. The show occupied over a half million net square feet and covered all three floors of the Colorado Convention Center, making it the largest show ever staged there.

Benitez spoke with Colorado Matters about what these new numbers represent and what comes next.