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Experts: Immigration, infrastructure keys to economic growth

PHOENIX — While disagreements remain over the need for Arizona’s anti-immigration law known as SB1070, most people agree that the worldwide publicity did little to boost our state’s image.

The bill led protesters to fill the streets, while allegations of racism and calls to boycott travel and convention business came during a weak economic climate in 2010.

“Until we saw the immediate damage that was being done to the state’s reputation, the business community was not there and the business community did lag in many ways to get into the game,” said James Garcia, a communications consultant. “Broadly speaking, I think that somehow they didn’t consider it their fight.”

But they do now, according to Garcia. He co-founded the Real Arizona Coalition, a group that includes members of the faith community, grassroots organizations, tourism, business and economic development groups. They are focused on getting Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

“We’re talking about a nation whose workforce is aging,” said Garcia. “Thousands of people are moving from the [baby] boomer population to retirement and we need to have some way, as our economy continues to grow, to replace those workers. The most logical place and the most convenient place happens to be right now with those immigrant workers.”

Recently, Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder asked the federal government to increase the number of work visas. He wants to attract 50,000 skilled immigrants over the next five years to help rejuvenate his state.

“Historically, we didn’t really partake in a lot of that competition,” said Professor Dennis Hoffman with the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “We didn’t have to wage that competition because folks moved here apart from anything we did to attract them. Arizona was its own people magnet.”

Now, Hoffman said Arizona’s state and local leaders must accept that we must compete for businesses. Over the past few years, Hoffman said state leaders have passed pro-business legislation surrounding regulations and taxes. The focus going forward should be on governments investing in education and infrastructure.

“Those cities that have infrastructure in place, be it water, sewer, roads and a facility, even, that’s conducive to attracting business are going to be the winners,” Hoffman said, using Apple’s recent announcement to locate a manufacturing plant in Mesa as an example.