Utah is home to nearly 65,000 refugees from all over the world. Between 2019 and 2020, more than 40,000 received assistance and training at the Utah Refugee Center at Salt Lake Community College’s Meadowbrook Campus in South Salt Lake.

The center is a collaborative effort involving the Utah Department of Workforce Services, SLCC, Utah State University and other community partners. Open since 2015, it is a shining example of Utah’s effective approach to public-private partnerships.

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Whenever Utah aims to create opportunities for the public or address problems and challenges, the state involves a broad range of parties, both in government and in the private sector. Collaborative partnerships at the Utah Refugee Center are essential to helping refugees navigate the complexities of living in the United States and giving them the chance to gain skills that are desperately needed by private employers.      

As refugee arrivals are projected to increase in 2021, the center is poised to continue its important work and expand efforts in a new larger home at 150 N. 1950 West, Salt Lake City, near North Temple and Interstate 215. Open as of Nov. 16, 2020, the new center is housed in a state-owned building which reduces costs and provides double the size of its SLCC space.

The move will allow Workforce Services to centralize refugee assistance at one location and bring refugees closer to other resettlement partners, such as Catholic Community Services and the International Rescue Committee. Like the Meadowbrook Campus site, the new location is near a TRAX station, at 1940 W. North Temple, aiding the many refugees who rely on public transportation.

The state is funding the move to the larger facility, and SLCC will continue to provide education and training while USU provides youth programming. In 2019 at the center, 2,536 refugees participated in training and another 4,117 participated in programs from their individual refugee communities. 

Refugees learn meaningful job skills in warehousing, phlebotomy, medical device manufacturing, basic technology, computer coding and, at times, construction framing. There are also classes in ESL, resume development and interview preparation, and 4-H classes. The center offers summer internships and college-readiness courses for youth, as well as life skills, conflict-resolution training and cultural events.

As turmoil continues around the world and more individuals and families are displaced from their homelands, our public-private partnership at the Utah Refugee Center stands ready to welcome new refugees and meet their needs. Programs and courses vary in length from two weeks to 18 months, and we are proud of the outcomes of that training: In 2019, 78% were placed into jobs and the average post-training wage was $15.79 an hour. Those numbers represent a resounding success and we hope only to improve them in our new, larger center.

Our services and programs help refugees overcome language, communication, cultural and employment challenges. They benefit individuals and families, as well as neighborhoods, cities and the state through expanded diversity, deeper cultural richness and prolonged economic stability. By supporting and lifting Utah’s refugee communities, we raise the quality of life for all Utahns. 

The Utah Refugee Center is open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, those seeking services should call before visiting: 801-618-5096. For more information, visit jobs.utah.gov/refugee/center

Deneece G. Huftalin, Ph.D., is the president of Salt Lake Community College. Asha Parekh the director of the Refugee Services Office, within the Utah Department of Workforce Services.