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Salt Lake City—Investment into education and technology will make big returns in the future, especially among the city’s burgeoning Latino population, said civic leaders Tuesday.
Speaking at the kickoff of the League of United Latin American Citizens National Conference at the Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said the quickly growing Latino population—now making up more than a quarter of Salt Lake residents—enrich the city as a whole.
“That population increase, which has been dramatic over the past 10 or 15 years, is good for Salt Lake City. It strengthens our community,” he said. “It provides a wonderful richness and culture to our community.”
To protect the success of the children belonging to that community, however, he said, city officials have partnered with state officials and representatives from the University of Utah to form a plan to help children succeed from cradle to career and beyond, he said. Education is the cornerstone of career success, and what happens at home is the cornerstone of educational success, he said.
“So many of our kids come in to school unprepared, and that keeps them from doing as well,” said Becker. “If we engage the community, if we can help the families be successful, the kids are going to be more successful.”
Brent Wilkes, national executive director of LULAC, commended Becker and the state for what had been done with the resources currently available, but urged further investment in the future.
“We hope we can get the state to invest a little more in your schools. You’ll find you get much more out of it than you put in,” he said.
In addition to looking to the schools for the future of Latino children, access to technology is sparse among some Latino communities, but is now a vital part of education and vocation, said Tara Thue, director for external affairs for AT&T.
Thue announced a donation from AT&T to update equipment in five LULAC Empower Hispanic America with Technology centers in the state, in addition to updates to the center in Salt Lake City made earlier in the year. The updates will make it easier for users to access educational resources, college and job applications and other online resources, she said, which will ultimately help the country as a whole.
“Technology is fundamentally altering the way we access and receive information,” she said. “Investing in a well-educated workforce may be the single thing we can do to strengthen our global economy and our local economy.”
In addition to the AT&T announcement, Nora Venegas, director of federal government relations for Tyson Foods, announced the company was donating 40,000 pounds of chicken to the Utah Food Bank as part of an ongoing effort to stamp out hunger.
Wilkes said the national conference, now in its 86th year, was set in Salt Lake for the first time this year as a reflection of the growing Hispanic population and the needs and opportunities that accompany such growth.
“We like to go to cities that could benefit from LULAC—cities that have a fast-growing Hispanic population or cities that haven’t had a LULAC convention before, but most importantly, cities that could probably benefit from the programs and ideas and strategies LULAC has,” he said. “We hope to get into those cities, hopefully early, and help develop that structure that hopefully leads to community success.”
In addition to speakers and discussions about Latino issues and resources, the conference will include help with education and job applications and opportunities. All events, including a concert Thursday night, are free to the public, with the exception of meals, for which there is a cost to cover the price of the food. For more information, go to LULAC.org/convention.