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By the Way...What is WTA?

Local Company Poised for Growth at Center of Building Deal

SIDNEY--Over the course of 2023, the company name "WTA" has been tossed around, mainly in regards to the "building swap" deal between 812 13th Avenue in Sidney (the "Big Red" building) and 1200 Pole Creek Crossing. Many people don't know what WTA is, some know a little, mainly that it is an outdoor recreation company, with some type of connection to Cabela's. But there is far more to the company than just recreation. WTA is a world-leader in providing hunting and fishing adventure packages to sportsmen and women worldwide.

WTA stands for Worldwide Trophy Adventures. Originally part of Cabela's as Cabela's Outdoor Adventures and Cabela's TAGS, the company was spun-off as its own individual entity in July of 2016. Mark Petersen, who owned a hunting and fishing booking and video production company called MVP Outdoor Adventures, was determined to own a booking service and tag company to help hunters plan trips with experienced outfitters who could provide their knowledge, and acquire all the necessary permits and licenses, for those looking for a unique hunting adventure. Petersen purchased WTA, at the time a small booking agency, and then about a year later he acquired Cabela's Outdoor Adventure and Trophy Application and Guide Service (TAGS). Quickly, WTA became the largest booking agency and tag service in the world.

Although Petersen is located in Michigan, WTA is headquartered in Sidney. Ryan Watchorn is the CEO of WTA, and was involved in the Cabela's Outdoor Adventures group prior to the company announcing its sale to Bass Pro Shops.

"When the whole Bass Pro acquisition happened, I was ready to pack up and leave the area and look for a new opportunity. But then I was approached to run WTA and stay here in Cheyenne County, and I jumped at the opportunity," said Watchorn. The current location of the WTA headquarters is at 1200 Pole Creek Crossing, next to Sidney Regional Medical Center. The building has been renovated and updated, with the latest in high-speed internet wiring and technology installed, and with large and modern office space for its employees. And, of course, there are all types of hunting trophies and taxidermy adorning the walls, giving the atmosphere of a modern and professional office that knows why they are in business.

Watchorn's employees are very experienced in their field, and know all of the ins and outs of setting up a high-quality hunting or fishing experience with an exclusive and demanding clientele. It's not the type of knowledge one can learn in a classroom, but rather through the experience of being a hunting or fishing guide, and knowing all of the right spots, and all of the right contacts, to provide the best possible trophy-hunting experience possible. It is not an easy business, with licensing requirements and permits needing to be purchased, with different procedures in every area and every different country needing to be understood and able to be navigated by WTA's staff members.

Watchorn noted the volatility of a business that depends upon disposable income for its revenues. When the economy is good, WTA prospers as more people are able to afford their services and go out on the trophy-hunting adventure they had dreamed of all of their lives. But bad economic conditions are challenging to a business like WTA, as people cut back on expenditures that are not necessary and shrink the pool of potential customers. Also, different countries can react in different ways to economic challenges, which can cause problems for WTA. Watchorn spoke about the challenges of operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, not just because of the economic hardships experienced, but also due to travel bans and other restrictions, not just in the United States, but internationally as well. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, all hunting stopped in Canada. Americans make up the vast majority of the hunting industry in Canada, and because of the shutdowns that lingered for over two years, WTA took a big hit. However, Watchorn and his team were able to adjust and keep all of their employees on staff and continued to do business where they could. "For two and half years we didn't make one penny from Canada and we kept every single employee and we went through some really rough times. Canada is a great market for us. Canadians don't hunt, it is the American market that drives hunting globally. Without Americans hunting ducks, it dies. The American market 100% dominates the hunting and fishing industry. When that stopped, it was huge," said Watchorn. However, WTA was able to re-focus their efforts where they could, and weathered the rough patch. Watchorn added, "Surprisingly hunting and shooting numbers in the United States went up. It's part miracle, because the hunting numbers, the fishing numbers, in the United States haven't been this high since I was a kid."

A focused, industry-leading company with the ability to adapt to changing business environments like WTA is a boon for Cheyenne County. WTA offers all types of services for hunters, including people with disabilities who hunt and fish. There are special programs and special equipment available to enable people with disabilities to enjoy hunting and fishing, and WTA knows how to set up special trips and packages for people with such challenges. WTA is committed to growing their industry, and including as many people as possible, especially those with physical or medical challenges and those new to, or just curious about, hunting. WTA is also getting into the business of specialty apparel and accessories for hunters, gaining online sales of their products and getting into distribution deals with major retailers worldwide.

Not only will the real estate deal get Sidney out from under the ownership of a building the city had difficulty leasing or selling, it will also help to expand and grow the business of WTA. With experienced sales people, top-level IT professionals and office personnel, WTA is poised for growth and will bring in high-level jobs to the Cheyenne County area. The new home for WTA will help attract new employees to the Sidney area. As Watchorn said, "I can't recruit (new employees) to Sidney if I don't have a home for them. I will hire them, but they will be in Texas, New Mexico and on the East Coast, West Coast, wherever...but they won't be here in Sidney. But with our new location, they will be able to come here, live in Sidney or Dalton or somewhere else in Cheyenne County and be close to the office."

The next time someone asks you, "What is WTA, anyway?", you can now respond by saying it's an industry-leading hunting and fishing company that sets up incredible trophy hunts for people all around the world. And best of all, it's located right here in Sidney.


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