PHOENIX (AP) | A boycott brought on by Arizona’s immigration crackdown raised the specter of vacant convention centers, desolate sports arenas and struggling businesses throughout the state.
Seven months later, the effects of the boycott are coming into focus, showing that it has been a disruptive force but nowhere near as crippling as originally feared.
Businesses have lost lucrative contracts and conventions have relocated, performers have called off concerts, and cities and counties in about a dozen states passed resolutions to avoid doing business with Arizona. A report released Thursday says the boycott has cost the state $141 million in lost meeting and convention business since Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed the measure into law in April.
But the state’s economy hasn’t come to a screeching halt - as some who organized the boycott hoped. In fact, more people went to the Grand Canyon this summer than last year, and more stayed in Arizona’s hotels and resorts, according to a review by the Associated Press.
“My occupancy has been pretty strong,” said Flagstaff bed-and-breakfast owner Gordon Watkins. He received a few calls from confused international customers wondering whether they would be asked for their papers, but no one canceled their reservations, he said, and business has been brisk.
Many conventions decided not to move, despite questions from their members. At the Phoenix Convention Center on Thursday, about 1,300 exhibitors, distributors and buyers were attending an annual show sponsored by the National School Supply & Equipment Association.
“We just kind of kept our eye on our members, and at least in our industry, they were coming whether that law was there or not,” said Bill Duffy, the group’s vice president of operations and meetings.
The most contentious parts of the law are on hold, including a section that would require police officers who are enforcing other laws to question the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally. A lawsuit by the federal government seeking to invalidate the law awaits a decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Liberal groups organized the boycott to slow the state’s economy in much the same way that a boycott punished Arizona 20 years ago over its refusal to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with a holiday.
This time, groups called on people not to fly Tempe-based US Airways or rent trucks from Phoenix-based U-Haul. There was talk of fighting Major League Baseball’s plans for holding the All Star Game in Phoenix next year.
Most of those protests haven’t come to fruition. The midsummer classic is still on, a spokeswoman for US Airways said the company saw no effect from the boycott call, and a U-Haul International executive said the same thing.
“In fact, year over year, we’re up,” said Jim Pena, the Phoenix-based rental firm’s president for Arizona.
Cities that called for boycotts, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, largely found themselves with few contracts to cancel and little Arizona travel to avoid.
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