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Ariz. immigration law has groups moving business to Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah could benefit from all the groups deciding to boycott Arizona because of the state's controversial new immigration law.

Already, two large business groups that were planning to meet in Tucson have canceled their plans and are coming to Salt Lake City.

According to Scott Beck, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, that means roughly an extra million dollars into Salt Lake's economy.

Those two groups might be just the beginning.

"We've probably received 20 or 30 calls of inquiry," says Beck. "If things get worse in the rhetoric, if implementation of the law becomes very difficult [in Arizona], I think we will see more benefit, if you want to call it a benefit."

If things get worse in the rhetoric, if implementation of the law becomes very difficult [in Arizona], I think we will see more benefit, if you want to call it a benefit.

–Scott Beck

Beck is cautious to say "benefit" because he knows how political winds can change at any time. Last year, for example, Salt Lake lost conventions because of California's Proposition 8 controversy.

Before that, the Veterans of Foreign Wars decided to cancel their Salt Lake City plans because the group was upset over things former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson had said.

"Within our industry, these kinds of things happen. One day we're on the receiving end, one day we're on the losing end when our legislature tackles an issue," says Beck. "Canceling conventions, meetings, or even not visiting a particular area tends to be one of the first things that people will use to make a statement."

Arizona's immigration issue, though, seems to have struck something deep.

Utah Rep. Carl Wimmer of Herriman says Utah should do something similar to Arizona, even if it means losing business.

"The bottom line is we need to do what's in the best interest for our citizens here in Utah, and the best interest for our citizens is upholding the rule of law and making sure we're enforcing our laws," says Wimmer.

Wimmer also calls the businesses and groups canceling their plans in Arizona "petty."

"It's highly unfortunate that businesses would hold the fact that Arizona is upholding the rule of law against them," says Wimmer. "If companies find that to be a negative, I'm sorry to hear that but we cannot cause that to force out hand."

Wimmer says he doubts the conventions and companies that have decided not to go to Arizona are doing so solely because of the immigration law. But even if they are, he suggests Utah would still come out financially OK if the same scenario happened here.

"In enforcing the rule of law, we will indeed be saving the state money that would be spent on illegal immigration and on illegal immigrants. I believe the impact would be revenue neutral at worse," says Wimmer.

Another Utah representative, Stephen Sandstrom of Provo, is planning on drafting an immigration bill for the 2011 Utah Legislative Session.

Sandstrom says he thinks businesses and groups boycotting Arizona aren't sending the right message.

In a statement released to KSL Thursday, Sandstrom wrote:

"While I welcome all conventions that want to come to the State of Utah, I believe that the threat of moving conventions from Arizona to Utah will not come to fruition and if so would be minor and short-lived. Americans are rallying around the Arizona law and with recent polls showing nearly 70 percent of all Americans [Pew Poll] supporting Arizona, any of the attempted boycotts against Arizona or any other state that supports enforcing the rule of law when it comes to dealing with illegal aliens will fail."

Wimmer thinks any money lost by such a law being passed in Utah would be made up by less money spent on health care, Medicaid and welfare.

Still, those in the hospitality business know if people want to make a statement, they do so with their wallets. And so far, the message to Arizona has been a strong one.

"Not that the dollar is everything," says Steve Lindburg, general manager of Park City's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, "but there really is some political cost to these comments that can impact our local economy."

Officials with the Utah Tourism Office say requests for travel brochures are up this year, but they don't think it has anything to do with what's going on in Arizona.


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Alex Cabrero


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