By Brice Wallace

The state’s largest business association will put a special emphasis on diversity, inclusion and opportunity during the next year, its leaders said at its annual meeting.

The Salt Lake Chamber has several continuing and new programs, but Derek Miller, its president and CEO, called on the business community to support and participate in the new effort.

“Despite all the good things that are happening in our state, there’s no doubt we still have very serious challenges ahead. One of those challenges is creating a business environment that fosters equality and inclusivity and opportunity,”

“Diversity and inclusion must be more than a slogan or even a movement. It must become a way of doing business and a way of life for all of us. Of course, the business community has a critical role and responsibility, and over the coming year, you will have many opportunities to lock arms with us at the chamber in this effort.”

The chamber’s incoming board chairman, Craig Wagstaff of Dominion Energy, encouraged businesses to work for change “that appropriately reflects the dynamic culture of Utah and continues to open opportunities for everyone.”

“I know that many of you value diversity and inclusion and embrace differences focusing on employees and their feelings and their sense of belonging in your workplaces,” he said. “But we also appreciate and we want to capitalize on what you’ve been doing for the community, and we want to get that synergy and work together to make our community a better place to have diversity and inclusion as we move forward.”

During the past few months, the chamber has listened to members and the community “in order to better understand what the current issues are and how we can best make a difference in this area,” Wagstaff said.

Initially, the initiative will focus on having the board listen to more diverse voices, provide educational opportunities for members, and act as a powerful voice in community, he said.

“We together will work closely as partners to make a real difference, to make our state a more welcoming and inclusive place, and ensure our state is a place that businesses can recruit and maintain the best talent,” Wagstaff said.

The chamber already has convened a series of lunch discussions on the topic and will expand those to the broader community. It also will form a diversity council to create “a belonging toolkit” for businesses to use. The council also will advise the board to “make sure that we are more intentional, more thoughtful and more inclusive in all of our work,” Wagstaff said.

“Our goal is not just to check a box here,” he told the crowd in-person and online. “Our goal is to really make a difference in the community, and I look forward to working with all of you as we work together to do this.”

The new effort comes in the midst of “a year that will not be soon forgotten,” Miller said, listing ways the chamber has worked to mitigate the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and begun to plan for recovery. They include establishing the “Utah Leads Together” statewide plan of action, creating a grant program for rural and minority-owned businesses that “literally kept doors open for local businesses across the state while they awaited PPP loans and other federal assistance,” the Stay Safe to State Open business-pledge program, and forming the Roadmap to Recovery coalition of business leaders setting markers for companies to follow on the road to economic prosperity.

“I believe that it is imperative for the business community to collect and analyze data that will help us to spell out and develop clear policy priorities that then the chamber can advocate for and champion to our state, local and federal leaders,” he said.

Miller noted that Utah retains a pioneer spirit that will help address difficulties. “Yes, we are passing through a challenging time, but our history is one of overcoming even greater uncertainties and being strengthened in that process,” he said.

“Each day, we become a little stronger, the future becomes a littler clearer, and we know that a comeback has already begun.”

The chamber also honored several individuals and organizations during the annual meeting:

• President’s Award for Excellence: Scott Parson of Staker Parson Materials & Construction.

• Community Partner of the Year: David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah.

• Corporate Partner of the Year: Smith’s Food & Drug.

• Outgoing Chair: Linda Wardell of City Creek Center.

• Chair’s Initiative Award: Success in Education Foundation.

• Chamber Champions: Lloyd Allen, CBRE; Rebecca Dutson, The Children’s Center; Michael Hanson, Zions Bank; Juanita Meske, Deseret Digital Media; Shawn Newell, Industrial Supply Co.; and Craig Weston, BluNovus Care.

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