Survey: Some CEO's Concerned About 'Mormon Influence' in Utah

Survey: Some CEO's Concerned About 'Mormon Influence' in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- On one hand, some of the chief executives responding to a new survey expressed concern about the effect of the "Mormon influence" in Utah.

On the other hand, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. got high marks -- particularly from those who mistook him for his father, Huntsman Chemical founder Jon Huntsman Sr.

The survey of 21 corporate leaders involved in business relocations and expansions in the state concluded the biggest obstacle to economic development was getting the executives to visit and see the state for themselves.

Real Estate Professionals for Economic Growth, a group of commercial real-estate agents and developers, commissioned and wrote the informal survey released Wednesday. Over several months, the group questioned executives from companies who have relocated or expanded in Utah and those who gave it a pass.

"There were not a lot of companies who wanted to talk about the real reason they didn't come to Utah. But the perceived problems were very predictable," said Bill Martin, managing partner with Colliers Commerce CRG and RE-PEG president.

"We still have a perception problem," he said. "The Olympics helped reduce that but it'll never go away."

He said, "We need to quit trying to rationalize the Mormon issue. It is what it is. We just have to get over this image of quirkiness that we have and move on."

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said the church influence issue can be bad "if people think they won't be welcomed here. My philosophy is that if they spend some time here they'll recognize people have a lot of conceptions about Utah that aren't true."

One person surveyed said that "the Mormon influence can be a negative. There is no question about that." Another states that there is a stigma associated with the state that "if you are not a Mormon it may not be a place that you fit in."

Others said the influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is responsible for such positive attributes as "the state's work ethic, friendliness, clean streets, public safety and the overall absence of crime" and one called it "a great place to live and work."

The survey also found business leaders balking because of the state's relatively small population base and 8-to-5 work force. Executives also are concerned about the future of Salt Lake City's Delta Air Lines hub and the availability of existing sites for large manufacturing plants or raw land with utilities installed.

Utah's quality of life, natural surroundings, affordable lifestyle and the executives happy to live in the state are the best chance to counteract the perceptions, the study found.

Chris Roybal, the governor's senior adviser for economic development, said continuing site visits and announcements of expansions and relocations put Utah on the economic development map.

"You're always going to have some positive and negative feedback about doing business in your community," he added. "That doesn't mean we aren't looking for better ways to present our information, create a one-stop shop and get the companies here."

The Governor's Office of Economic Development contributed $15,000 to the $55,000 survey.

The state's hosting of the 2002 Winter Games was cited as a reason some business owners considered Utah in the first place.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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