Huntsman: Utah Changing With Lightning Speed

Huntsman: Utah Changing With Lightning Speed

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) -- The 2002 Olympics didn't leave any lasting economic benefit, but rapid population growth and more diversity is changing conservative Utah, the state's new governor said Wednesday.

Gov. Jon Huntsman spoke to The Associated Press board of directors at the Utah Olympic Park, the site of ski jumping and bobsled races during the winter games.

While the Olympics didn't bring permanent jobs, Utah is "on the map" and recognized around the world, said Huntsman, a Republican who took office in January and has made boosting the state's economy his main priority.

"You've got to win jobs. You've got to compete in the marketplace," Huntsman told the board, which consists of executives from many of the nation's leading media companies.

Utah is increasing tourism advertising 20-fold to draw millions more visitors to a state with five national parks, and Huntsman predicted many of the tourists will come from Asian countries. Huntsman is a former trade representative for both Bush administrations and ambassador to Singapore.

Huntsman promoted the state's efforts to distinguish itself from Colorado and other fast-growing states by planning new communities around systems of mass transit. Most of Utah's 2.5 million residents live along the narrow, 100-mile Wasatch Front corridor, where plans for light- and commuter rail began with the Olympics.

He called Utah's residents conservative but pragmatic and noted Utah's original Mormon settlers laid out cities and villages along wide boulevards in an orderly fashion. Exponential population growth is changing Utah with lightning speed, he said.

Hispanics represent Utah's fast-growing population, and Huntsman said they fill a need in the economy for labor. He called for a system of work visas for immigrants, but said the nation's post-9/11 political climate didn't promise a ready solution.

Immigrants will continue to enter the state with or without documents and "you can't just wave a wand and wish them away," he said.

Huntsman said Latin Americans can't be faulted for seeking economic opportunity and can be good for Utah. He said Utah was running up bills for unpaid health care, but "we will always be a nation committed to openness."

Huntsman, who returned a week ago from a visit with Mexico President Vicente Fox, said immigrants will continue to spill over the border. He said Mexico won't beef up border policing in the year running up to another presidential election.

On other issues:

--Huntsman said Utah legislators passed a law challenging President Bush's No Child Left Behind education law, but he would make certain the state doesn't get to the point where it loses federal funding.

"We don't want to have the White House come down on us," he said.

--Utah will continue its fight at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep some of the nation's utilities from using an Indian reservation to store spent nuclear fuel 45 miles west of Salt Lake City.

"You probably don't care much about nuclear waste where you live," Huntsman told publishers from around the country. "But out here we care. We have beautiful land."

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

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