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South Valley Riverton Journal

South Valley Chamber wants COVID business recovery to be more inclusive

Apr 28, 2021 12:51PM ● By Heather Lawrence

A screenshot of Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson during a roundtable meeting on March 26 with United Way of Salt Lake and South Valley Chamber, “Opportunity for All: Building Equitable Communities.” (Courtesy United Way of Salt Lake)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

The South Valley Chamber and United Way of Salt Lake held a roundtable meeting March 26. The focus was recovering and rebuilding business in Salt Lake County in a deliberately inclusive way. 

“We all know that 2020 was a rough year. But in the circles that I operate in, I know that 2020 wasn’t the start of some of our biggest challenges as far as equitable opportunities. United Way has focused for a long time on community problems, and these problems were magnified in 2020,” said Bill Crim, CEO of United Way of Salt Lake. 

 The South Valley Chamber supports business growth in Sandy, Draper and Riverton. They came together with United Way and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson for the presentation “Opportunity for All: Building Equitable Communities.”

“We know that things like income, education and health coverage vary widely among different groups in society. It’s the happenstance of where we’re born and the parents we’re born to that determines our access,” Crim said. 

Crim’s statistics showed that Utah follows the same patterns as the rest of the country, where minorities are at a disadvantage.  

“But there is good news about living in Utah. Utah is the No. 1 state in the country for volunteering and charitable giving. We’re a compassionate group of humans,” Crim said. 

Crim turned the time over to Wilson, who said she feels like the pandemic response is giving the community a generational opportunity. “It’s such a transformative time,” Wilson said. 

Wilson described her CODA team: the Council on Diversity Affairs. After the initial emergency pandemic response in Salt Lake in spring 2020, the CODA team was consulted to ensure the response had a connection to the community.  

“There was so much going on. I felt vulnerable during the dark, early days when COVID started. I’d walk into our emergency command center where we always had CNN on, and I’d see the red bubbles of ‘infection’ spreading on the map,” Wilson said. 

As Wilson looks to the future, CODA’s broad approach will make sure that diverse needs are considered in initiatives ranging from aging services to infrastructure. “And everything we’ve done has been through partnerships with groups like United Way of Salt Lake,” Wilson said. 

Wilson also recognized the mistake of not getting someone “at the table” sooner to consider how COVID might discriminate. 

“[No one was] looking at how people of color were not being tested at the same rate, or how they were impacted or dying at a higher rate. As a mayor I was trying to take a stand against discrimination, but I didn’t think to get someone there at the beginning. I got someone there early [to look at those issues] once I realized,” Wilson said. 

Wilson tried to create partnerships between her office and businesses and schools. “We utilized low-cost loans for businesses. We’re seeing how we can help women-owned businesses. We pulled in students who weren’t able to travel for internships and gave them internships here.

“We also figured out that kids have been left behind and haven’t had access to technology or their teachers. The schools are overwhelmed. So we’re using our partnership with United Way to reach those people,” Wilson said. 

Notable attendees of the meeting included former Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck; Laura Stireman of Workers’ Compensation Fund; Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy; Rep. Jefferson Burton, Army Major General, retired; Olivia Scott of United Way; Scott Sperry, COO of O.C. Tanner Company; former Rep. Eric Hutchings; and Deputy Mayor of Salt Lake County Kerri Nakamura. 

Rep. Burton brought together the pieces of finance and social inclusion when he asked how our local governments will utilize government stimulus money to improve infrastructure in neighborhoods that have been historically left behind. 

“Our amount for Salt Lake County is $200 million. We’re waiting for clarification from the federal government on how the money can be spent. Digital access is something they approved, so that will be a priority,” Wilson said. 

Wilson said that there was a multimillion-dollar budget loss last year and a hiring freeze, so that’s part of their consideration for the funds. But there isn’t as much of a rush on how to use the funds. 

“The last stimulus fund (in 2020) we had to use within a year. We’re not as rushed with this stimulus because we have until 2024. So we’re looking long-term and short-term,” Wilson said. 

Now that the dialogue is open among all the different groups in Salt Lake County, Crim hopes there will be action. 

“Meetings are a path to action. If you want to fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” Crim said. “It’s unknown what the effects of the pandemic crisis will be on youth, education, equity and helping refugees. But working with Salt Lake County on this has been inspiring.”