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Because of Utah's rapid-growing Latino population, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is bringing its national convention to Salt Lake City from Tuesday through Saturday —¬†and is offering a free expo and a concert with national celebrities for Utahns.

"The reason we're here is because the growth of the Hispanic population in the state and the city has been pretty remarkable," said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the 86-year-old group. "About 25 percent of your population in Salt Lake City is Hispanic, so that puts you in the top echelon of cities around the country."

While the Latino percentage is that high in Salt Lake City, Latinos make up just 13.5 percent of Utah's population statewide. Ogden and West Valley City also have large Latino populations, and Wendover is the only city in Utah where Latinos are a majority.

Wilkes said much of the convention is free and open to the public in hopes of attracting new volunteers in such areas as youth mentoring, education, health care, housing and job training.

The convention at the Salt Palace downtown includes an expo that opens Wednesday with such things as free health screening and training on how to interview for jobs.

"We will have actual job interviews, too. We have corporate sponsors who are looking to hire people immediately" including recruiters from the Salt Lake City Police Department, said Luis Torres, director of policy and legislation for the group.

"We also have a career and college expo for some of the younger folk, who are looking at going to a university and financial aid and scholarships," he said.

The convention will also have a free concert Thursday evening at 8 p.m. at the Salt Palace with several well-known Latino entertainers including Taboo (from the Black Eyed Peas), Michael Salgado, Angela Vale and Little Joe y La Familia.

A schedule of events is available at lulac.org/convention.

LULAC also lobbies such issues as immigration reform and improving education for Latinos, and may vote to take positions on them this week.

As an example of its concerns, Wilkes said his group would like to see Utah rise out of its current last-place position among the states for spending per pupil.

"We certainly would encourage Utah to figure out how to up its per-pupil spending. We know it's not easy to ask taxpayers to pay more, but it's worth it," he told The Tribune editorial board on Monday.

"We think that educating a child pays you back tenfold in better productivity and increased taxes later they will be paying later on rather than maybe being on public assistance," he said.

He adds that his group tries itself to help improve education by providing scholarships and programs to mentor students on how best to prepare for college. He said the convention aims to expand those efforts by seeking more local volunteers.