SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Education and economic development are Gov. Gary Herbert's main priorities for the state this year.
Herbert shared his vision for Utah during his annual State of the State address Wednesday evening at the state Capitol.
The governor spoke for about 30 minutes and laid out several challenges for lawmakers to fund education and business proposals and called on public offices and citizens to focus on efficiency and conservation.
Early in the speech, Herbert said Utah is strong and continuing to recover from the economic downturn.
"I have never been more optimistic about Utah's future," he said.
He noted that Utah's unemployment rate is at 5.2 percent, well below the national rate of 7.8 percent.
"I have never been more optimistic about Utah's future." Gov. Gary Herbert
The key focus of his speech was education, something he called the biggest and most important investment Utah makes each year.
It's also vital to building a strong economy, Herbert said.
The governor drew strong applause from the audience when he called on lawmakers to support his goal for 66 percent of the state's adult population to have at least a one-year degree by 2020. The state is at 43 percent right now.
The governor also asked lawmakers to dedicate $20 million to fund programs focusing on science, technology, engineering and math to prepare students to enter the global economy.
"Nothing matters more than preparing our children to face the new, interdependent global economy," he said.
Herbert said Utah can afford to invest more in education than other states still struggling to recover.
Moving the prison
The state should also continue focusing on economic recovery and ensure the state business friendly, he said.
SALT LAKE CITY — Allyson Gamble never thought she'd be a focus of a governor's State of the State speech. But here she was with her family Wednesday night, listening to applause meant for her as Gov. Gary Herbert made a point.
"It felt very surreal," Gamble said. "I was very honored, and I started to shake because it was so exciting."
Gamble is a two-time heart transplant recipient, and some of the devices used in her procedures were created by a Utah company. Herbert said its an example of Utah's business-friendly atmosphere.
"Real jobs with real impact on people's lives," the governor said.
Herbert asked lawmakers to fund the relocation of the state prison to open up land for tech companies.
The Utah State Prison occupies 700 acres in Draper along Interstate-15, a location where companies such as eBay and Microsoft have set up operations.
Moving the prison and freeing up land will help ensure that area prospers as a hub for technology companies looking to set up shop and bring jobs to the state, he said.
State officials have been weighing relocation for several years, and a 2005 study estimated it would cost more than $400 million to move the prison.
Herbert also touted his recently-released vision for outdoor recreation, which calls for the creation of a state office dedicated to outdoor recreation and an annual summit for those in the industry to gather with other stakeholders.
He reiterated his view that Utah can nurture the outdoors industry while developing energy from natural resources.
The outdoor recreation industry adds $5.8 billion to Utah's economy every year. It's also a key part of Utah's identity and lifestyle, Herbert said.
He added that Utah businesses, public agencies and residents must all work to preserve the state's outdoor opportunities and natural gems by reduce pollution and take steps such as using mass transit or energy efficient appliances.
He cited steps the government has already taken to make Utah more energy efficient, such as adding more HOV lands on interstate and encouraging employees to use video conferencing to cut down on travel.
The governor also sped up the time frame for a state plan to reduce water usage.
In 2000, Utah set a goal to use 25 percent less water in 50 years. Herbert says the state is already using 18 percent less and wants to meet the goal by 2025.
The governor issued a challenge to state agencies to streamline their operations to save dollars. Herbert said Utah already runs an efficient government but there's room to improve.
He asked government agencies and employees to try to improve their operational efficiency by 25 percent in the next four years.
Associated Press writer Annie Knox contributed to this report.
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