SALT LAKE CITY — Immigrants are "imperative" for Utah's growing economy and entrepreneurial innovation.
That's what Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie said Thursday, standing beside Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams at a news conference to announce an initiative focused on welcoming and encouraging foreign-born entrepreneurs in Utah.
"Welcoming people here is not only the compassionate thing to do for our community, but it also brings resiliency and vibrancy to our economy," McAdams said. "We all know that our country, and especially our state, is growing rapidly. It turns out that much of that growth is due to a jump in the percentage of residents who were foreign-born. They are adding to our strong economy."
Between 2009 and 2014, Salt Lake County's foreign-born population grew by nearly 20 percent, while overall population grew by 5.5 percent, the mayor said. In 2014, immigrants contributed $8 billion to the county's local economy.
"Foreign-born residents throughout Utah and the U.S. are also a key demographic behind innovation that is taking place here in the United States," McAdams added. "More than one-third of U.S. innovators were born outside of the United States, even though that group makes up just 13 percent of all U.S. residents."
On Thursday, more than 60 business, government and community leaders gathered at the Salt Lake Chamber for the first of several meetings to brainstorm ways to improve international business opportunities in Utah.
The New Americans Task Force aims to develop government and local business policy recommendations to make Salt Lake even more attractive, welcoming and globally competitive for international talent and business, Beattie said.
The task force will be meeting "aggressively" over the next few months to create "concrete" policy recommendations for government and local businesses by the end of July, McAdams said.
Dinesh Patel, a member of the chamber's board of governors and a local investor, said even though immigration is often cast in a negative light in today's politics, there's a "big distinction" between legal and illegal immigrants.
Patel, who was born and raised in Zambia, Africa, said people like himself create jobs, attract investments and enrich the local culture when they are welcomed into the private sector to start a business.
"They are not taking over our jobs," he said. "They are actually creating more jobs."
Photo: Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams talks about the launch the New Americans Task Force at the Salt Lake Chamber in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 31, 2016. Kristin Murphy, Deseret News