Business Leaders Respond to SB 1070

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The economic fallout from SB 1070 has grabbed the attention of Arizona’s business community. Hear how it’s reacting to the matter. Guests include Debbie Johnson, President and CEO of the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association; Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, the CEO of Old World Homes and a member of GPEC’s Board of Directors; and Glenn Hamer, CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Ted Simons: The fallout from senate bill 1070 is pushing Arizona business and tourism groups to call for something to be done regarding federal immigration reform. Here with more is Debbie Johnson, president and CEO of the Arizona hotel and lodging association, and a member of the governor's Tourism and Economic Development Task Force. Former Phoenix mayor Paul Johnson, and CEO of Old World Homes and a member of the GPEC board of directors. And Glenn Hamer, and the CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Paul Johnson: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Let's get the basics here. Is this bill, is this law hurting Arizona business?

Debbie Johnson: Without a doubt. It's hurting Arizona. It's hurting tourism, it's hurting the business industry because any time you have an image that's out there that's incorrect, people believe sometimes what they hear, and so unfortunately they're hearing a lot of bad things, a lot of negative things about Arizona. Or in the media, seems like every day. And unfortunately that perception is carrying over into business decision and travel decisions, and corporate group meeting decisions. And that's what's unfortunate for us.

Ted Simons: are we seeing actual impact along with potential impact? What's the dynamic there?

Paul Johnson: Well, it's certainly easy to gauge, but when you look at the losses in conventions or the losses of hotel rooms, it's also easy to recognize when we look at our executive director who has been going around the country trying to stop some of these embargoes and people trying to keep business from coming to Arizona, but I think there are a lot of people in the business community who are supportive of some type of reasonable immigration reform that the challenge has become that this issue is so polarized on each side, that there's very little room for debate. And that environment, Arizona loses. Because we neither fix the border problem, and at the same time we begin to frame ourselves as being something that's -- that tends to be close to a racist.

Ted Simons: Glenn, impact so far of this bill. Hurting business?

Glenn Hamer: Well, it certainly wasn't our version of the jobs bill. It has not been helpful. And you've heard already just on the convention side, the key here, Ted, is that we are going to need to push probably after the November election for the federal government to once and for all fix our immigration system. It's completely -- it's broken. And bills like SB 1070 are in my opinion a reaction to this sense that the federal side of things is just completely dysfunctional.

Ted Simons: You mentioned getting the truth out there and get can facts, information, letting people know what Arizona is really -- what are you hearing from folks outside of Arizona? What are they saying?

Debbie Johnson: They're saying it's unsafe, they're fearful of coming here, they are afraid of so many different things. A lot of it is factual information that we need to put out that we are a welcoming destination. 30-35% of our work force is minority. So a lot of the folks that they're claiming to help, they're hurting. And we haven't -- have a job to make sure we're protecting the 200,000 families that depend on the tourism industry for a paycheck. And so to communicate the facts that Arizona is still the same Arizona that was six months ago, that we're a very welcoming and warm destination and that the business is important to us.

Ted Simons: talk about -- as you're a high-profile politician at one time, the governor, the sheriff Arpaio, others in the state, they want the federal government to know there's trouble as far as immigration is concerned, there's crime that needs to be addressed, and yet, it's got to be mentioned, you start talking so much about how much crime is here and folks say, I don't want to go there, it sounds dangerous.

Paul Johnson: people are getting a message around the world that Arizona is a place where there are massive kidnappings, where the cartels seem to be in charged, where illegal immigration is out of hand and the way we're dealing with it is through racist tactics. The message and the branding exercises going on here is very, very damaging to Arizona. And what I see from the business community, and obviously they're diverse and have different opinions, but they're disappointed with our political leadership across the board. They're disappointed with the governor who ended up with a bill, that had no Hispanic support, no Mexican-American support of any type of the okayed groups. They're certainly disappointed with Grijalva who for the call for trying to create sanctions against Arizona. And they're disappointed with President Obama, that they look at this lawsuit and I think many of them see it as an opportunity where we could have used it to try to force the federal government into action.

Ted Simons: There's been some criticism of the business community for not speaking up at least publicly. There have been court battles and these sorts of things, not being a unified voice, a more public voice on this particular topic on this particular bill. How do you respond?

Glenn Hamer: At this point the business community is united. Last week 19 different groups that give GPEC a ton of credit, greater Phoenix leadership, the Phoenix chamber, groups from all across the state came together and said, we need to work together so that we can get a solution that works on the federal level. And that solution has four main components. First we said we need to secure the border. That's where the public is, and it's going to be very difficult if not impossible to achieve the other objectives with without securing our borders. We believe we need a workable employer sanction system. Companies that illegally hire workers in a knowing -- that knowingly hire illegal workers should be punished. We also believe that we need to recognize that immigration is a huge legal immigration is a huge benefit to Arizona and to the country. We're very lucky that the best and the brightest and the hardest workers from around the world want to come here. So the business community in this state is unified. We need a federal solution. It's really the only way, Ted.

Ted Simons: And yet when you -- I'm hearing we need to secure the border. I'm asking myself, how secure does the border need to be?

Glenn Hamer: More secure than it is today.

Ted Simons: But at what point does that satisfy the critics how secure does it need to be? As far as employer verification, at what point do the other sides say, that's not amnesty anymore as far as finding a legal path work? How are you going to satisfy all these different groups?

Glen Hamer: Well, in terms of complete satisfaction, I'm not sure that's going to happen. But there -- there is a solution out there, and it's going to be difficult. And it's going to take leadership from both sides of the aisle.

Paul Johnson: Current partisan system simply rewards people for being extremists and it penalizes people for being moderates. The public, the business community, people who want to see that change, they have to demand more from their elected officials. They have to demand that they cross the aisle. That they work with groups on the other side. That they look for solutions. And unfortunately today, there's just no reward for doing that.

Ted Simons: As far as an idea, a plan, rebranding if you will, getting the truth out, what tangible thing can be done as opposed to we need to get comprehensive immigration reform or something done at the federal level? Again, that gets all sides all bubbling up from their different directions. What needs to be done? Give me something -- a hard, fast thing that can be done that can turn things around for business in this state.

Debbie Johnson: First and foremost, we have to change the dialogue. The dialogue, we need to talk about the importance of jobs. We need to talk about the importance of economic recovery. We need to talk about the importance of tourism. And so you talk about rebranding, and it's not rebranding because our brand is still there. Our brand is the same as I mentioned as it was six months ago. We need to remind people about what Arizona is. And unfortunately you're talking millions of dollars there to reimage Arizona. To remind travelers to remind the business community outside of Arizona what Arizona is. So I think everybody working together needs to make those changes, we need to get the word out about Arizona, and more than anything, I think the gentlemen are right, we need to work with our elected officials and use the voice that us as a tourism industry, as a business community have and make it very clear who we support and who we don't. From our elected leadership.

Paul Johnson: We had over 300,000 jobs that were lost in Arizona last year. Another 50,000 this year. GPEC worked hard on a jobs bill. The jobs bill was something that tried to create the ability to create incentives to bring base industries here. With the loss of jobs, what we saw that came out of the Arizona legislature ended up being some gun bills, we saw the immigration bill, and a tax increase. Regardless of whether any of those things had merit or not, there was nothing done that really helped promote this state from a job standpoint. And to me it's part of their goal should have been to not just make the central focus of that last legislative session illegal immigration. They needed to also make certain that they balanced that with job creation.

Ted Simons: And yet, Glenn, supporters of 1070 will say, what needs to be rebranded? What's belong with as right now? We should be proud of Arizona because most of the country agrees with this law.

Glenn Hamer: Well, the polling numbers are strong. That may be true. But it's also very clear that there's been a very tangible business impact on our -- on many different sectors. It's also true and people forget this, that Mexico by far is Arizona's largest trading partner. There are tens of thousands of jobs for Arizona citizens today that rely on a healthy relationship with Arizona and the country of Mexico. And it goes far beyond tourism. It goes into the export sector as well. Manufacturing type jobs. I agree -- I believe Debbie made good points in terms of what the state needs to do. It's not so much of a rebranding, but it's not -- I don't think there's a silver bullet here, Ted.

Ted Simons: As far as, again, supporters of 1070 will also say, why aren't we doing buy-COTTS? Why aren't we celebrating what Arizona is doing because we're in the lead of what is showing to be pretty popular. Is that viable?

Debbie Johnson: I think somewhat. But there's so much miscommunication out there, and so much misinformation, that the bottom line for us is, regardless of how you feel about the law, there's so other ways to get your point across about that, but boycotting your own state encouraging people to boycott your own state, it's just plain wrong. The damage that's done to our economy and to our citizens is so hurtful so I think the message that needs to get out, there buycotts can help, but it doesn't replace the thousand room convention that's cancelled and it doesn't replace the calls that are down by 50 to 75% in our sales offices right now.

Paul Johnson: I think we also can demand of our congressional leaders and our two senators that we're looking for an answer. And these platitudes that keep being placed out there that tend to be polarizing as opposed to looking at working across the aisle to find an answer, we ought to let them know that's not acceptable.

Ted Simons: Glenn, last --

Glenn Hamer: it hurts me to say, when the president of the United States goes out there and makes inflammatory remarks about this bill, and does not -- has to this day as far as I know, has not said that boycotts is an inappropriate way to deal with this law, it hurts. The president of the United States should come out and say there's an appropriate way to deal with it. His administration right now is in the -- is using the legal system. But to hurt innocent families in Arizona who had absolutely nothing to do with the passage of SB 1070 is just wrong.

Ted Simons: Last question, and very quickly. Why should we not, and again, an offshoot of this question, why should we not say, 1070, it's Arizona. We did something, come visit, come join us here in Arizona as we attack illegal immigration.

Glenn Hamer: It's not a piece of legislation that brings people together. And I don't think you're going to see it at the top of the brochure for any economic development organizations.

Ted Simons: It's that divisive.

Glenn Hamer: It is.

Ted Simons: Thank you so much for joining us.

Debbie Johnson: Thank you.

Debbie Johnson:President and CEO, Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association;Paul Johnson:Former Mayor of Phoenix;Glenn Hamer:CEO, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry;

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