Business leaders from Utah and Monterrey, Mexico, dined on steak and salmon inside the Grand America Hotel on Tuesday evening, exchanging good-natured banter the night before Real Salt Lake takes on Monterrey in a soccer championship at Rio Tinto Stadium.
But there was a bit more being kicked around than simply soccer talk.
It was a chance for businesses from both sides to get a feel for potential partnerships through an agreement signed between the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico last week in Monterrey.
There, business leaders from Utah watched Real Salt Lake play to a 2-2 tie against Monterrey and also toured some of the business zones in the region. Wednesday's game is the CONCACAF league championship finals, and Monterrey business leaders will get a chance to scope out Salt Lake City before the game.
"We hope you have a comfortable time here," Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said. "We hope you like snow."
Tuesday's dinner and Wednesday's game were also a part of ironing out a partnership with Nuevo Leon through HB466 a migrant worker bill signed by Gov. Gary Herbert earlier this year that would enter the state into a labor partnership with the Mexican state.
It's still a work in progress Herbert acknowledged there hasn't been a 27-member commission established as required by the bill, and there is still a need to get visas issued through the federal government for it to work.
Herbert would also be required to ink the deal with Nuevo Leon.
"Oddly enough, I ran into [Attorney General] Mark Shurtleff in San Francisco, and we talked about getting it done," Herbert said. "But then he had treatments and of course he's been in Washington and all over the place. But we're going to get it done."
Shurtleff has been undergoing treatment for colon cancer while taking the lead on trying to get federal waivers to operate a guest-worker bill signed by Herbert, as well as working with leadership in Nuevo Leon.
The migrant-worker bill sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo and Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem was one of four immigration bills signed by Herbert that didn't involve significant controversy. Sandstrom authored HB497, an enforcement-only bill that drew opposition from immigration advocates, while HB116 the guest worker bill is the subject of a repeal movement by those who believe it's unconstitutional by trumping federal sovereignty.
Herbert told the room of about 70 people that "hopefully this is the beginning of a better relationship than in the past" with Mexico.
Eduardo Cruz, a real estate developer from Monterrey, said he would've been reluctant to engage in a partnership with Arizona because of SB1070 and the rhetoric coming from anti-immigration firebrands like Sen. Russell Pearce and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Cruz said Utah was different.
"What the governor did to open his arms to the people it's one of the best things we as people in Monterrey have seen," Cruz said.
According to the Salt Lake Chamber, Monterrey is viewed as a key economic partner for Utah because of its gross domestic product topping $105 billion, as well as having direct ties to businesses such as Autoliv, which employs 3,500 Utahns and has manufacturing facilities in Mexico.
Becker said the soccer game provided an opportunity to continue economic expansion and that Utah's recent policies on immigration have allowed that growth to move forward.
"I'm so pleased with what our state has done," Becker said. "To build bridges, not walls."