Every February, we celebrate Black History Month, honoring the achievements of African Americans, recognizing how far we’ve come from the bigotry of the past, and identifying areas needing continued focus and improvement. That celebration has caused me to reflect on the Salt Lake Chamber’s legislative priorities for 2022, including the business community’s efforts to promote “diversity and inclusion.” Those are critical pillars and key to our state’s economic opportunities and long-term success.

People are moving to Utah daily from other places around the country and world, bringing their customs and traditions with them. Recently we’ve taken in refugees from Afghanistan and Africa, and we may now see refugees from Ukraine as people flee that nation. As Utahns, championing diversity and inclusion must be a value we embody in all aspects of life. It’s not only good for business, it is simply the right thing to do.

It may surprise some, but Utah has been a leader in many ways on past diversity efforts. For example, Utah was a leader in giving women the right to vote, enabling Utahn Seraph Young in 1870 to become the first woman in America to cast a ballot as the result of suffrage legislation.

In 2015, Utah led the nation in protecting the rights of LGBTQ citizens while protecting religious liberty of believers — the first-of-its kind of legislation in the country.

Earlier this year, businesses across the state denounced bigotry in all its forms, and the Salt Lake Chamber reissued a statement to reinforce the principles of the Utah Compact on Racial Equity,

Diversity and inclusion. Inflammatory statements by one person do not represent the entire community, but it is important to reaffirm the values we aspire to and build upon to make Utah the best state for jobs and upward mobility.

Words have power, but action is what makes a difference. So, in addition to the Utah Compact on Race, the chamber also established the Diversity and Inclusion Council, which amplifies the good work of our businesses. This council now holds an annual statewide business conference on diversity and inclusion and is organizing efforts to provide resources and training to small businesses to expand their ability to achieve their diversity goals.

The Salt Lake Chamber is committed to this vital agenda. Racism, prejudice and bigotry are more than just character flaws — they are harmful and detrimental to all involved. This is why we have also pledged to advance public policy efforts that establish priorities and laws that create equal opportunity, fairness and access.

As one example, the chamber has strongly supported “Clean Slate” legislation, which expands opportunities for those with nonviolent misdemeanor convictions that can result in criminal records that limit job opportunities. Utah is the second state in the nation to pass such legislation that expunges misdemeanor records if the individual has not been convicted of a crime in the last five to seven years.

This legislative session the chamber has advocated for fair chance hiring laws that are designed to give ex-offenders a better chance at gaining employment. We have also advocated for expanding workforce training programs to help underserved communities; and remain committed to addressing disparities in economic opportunity.

For these reasons and more, the Salt Lake Chamber and our business community partners are proud to promote the values that continue to make Utah a great place to live.

Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.