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Utah live events workers march in ‘Walk for Work’ in Salt Lake City

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Members of the Utah Live Events Industry Association finish a march from the City-County Building to the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. The march aimed to bring attention to the size of the group being affected by the cancellation of events due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — While many restaurants and local businesses continue to reopen in Utah, there is still a segment of businesses that remain closed with no clear reopening date in sight.

Workers in the live events industry “probably make up a third of the remaining unemployed in the state,” said Peter O’Doherty, president of the Utah Live Events Industry Association.

Many concerts, conventions, theater performances and other live events have been postponed — often until next year — which leaves not just entertainment venues, but the employees of small businesses that support live events out of work.

To make sure that workers in the industry are not forgotten, the Utah Live Events Industry Association organized a “Walk for Work” parade on Tuesday to raise awareness for out of work employees and businesses.

Wearing masks and carrying signs, nearly 200 people marched down State Street to the state Capitol to show legislators and the state government how many people have been impacted by event cancellations and shutdowns.

“Today was to show that we’re not just one or two people,” O’Doherty explained.

The association, which is affiliated with the national Live Events Coalition, is made up of nearly 400 businesses in the live events industry. Calling it a “diverse” group, O’Doherty says that the types of businesses range from electricians to audio providers to video production — like his own company, Special Electronics Group in Park City.

Live events are a significant part of Utah’s economy. The industry has a positive economic impact of $2 billion annually in the state, according to the Utah Live Events Industry Association.

Members of the association have been meeting with legislators and other government officials to draw attention to the plight of many of the small businesses in the live events industry.

“The support packages will not last long enough, under the CARES Act, on what’s available to sustain us through what is now a likely 12-month closure,” said O’Doherty. “Everyone in our industry is under 10% of revenue at the moment.”

Making sure that small businesses in the events industry receive enough support to last into 2021, when most events will start back up again, is critical to O’Doherty. He’s concerned that if businesses shut down, Utah will lose much of the skilled workforce in the industry that it currently has.

“If we let the brains and skills leave our industry, we can’t restart again in March,” O’Doherty said. “You don’t put on the Tour of Utah by just saying, ‘Hey, let’s put it on next week.’ There are people that should be working on it today.”

According to O’Doherty, there are four main “staples of support” that the live events industry needs in order to continue. “We need rent, we need our staff looked after, we need our working capital so that our equipment and our business development doesn’t just stop, and we need support to put on compliant events.”

Sen. Ronald Winterton, R-Roosevelt, has been involved in talks with the association and “has been very understanding of our cause,” O’Doherty said. “But they don’t have a funding source for us. That’s what we’re looking for.”

If businesses are expected to remain closed, then they need support, he said.

“We are unhappy but prepared to stay closed, as long as we’re supported,” O’Doherty said. “You can’t expect us to close and not help us.”