Eli Lucero, Herald Journal
Aliasgar Kutiyana models for Utah legislators Tuesday a device that can assist the visually impaired.

LOGAN — Genetics research, robotic guide dogs and commercial flights gave legislators touring Utah's northern corner a first-hand taste of how the Cache Valley is pushing into the 21st century.

During the last day of their trip Tuesday, state lawmakers on various guided tours spent a full day hearing about topics such as the drought's impact on Bear Lake, improved methods for teaching disabled students, high-tech businesses and the multiple building projects at Utah State University. Many of the tours also saw the ways in which their appropriations, especially in last year's general session, are being utilized and even paying dividends.

The biggest news may have been given to the group focused on transportation. They were told by Logan Mayor Doug Thompson that a commuter airline is "very serious" about starting commercial service to the Logan Airport. That would include two daily flights to Denver and one to Las Vegas, and would be very important for economic development and the businesses that result from research at the university, he said.

"It's really essential to us for getting and keeping businesses," he said. "As USU develops businesses . . . we would like to keep those businesses here."

The contract for the flights, which could be signed within two weeks, would bring to the valley exactly what it needs for air travel, said Sandra Emile, president of the Cache Chamber of Commerce. Although she could not identify the Las Vegas-based company, she did say the prices would be less than a Denver flight from Salt Lake.

"We aren't looking to be an international airport," she said. "We are looking to provide our local people and businesses a connection globally."

Rep. Fred Hunsaker, R-Logan, who was on the tour that visited the airport, said the new flights would be a major step forward for the entire valley.

"For businesses, for the university and for so many economic functions, it is tremendously important," he said. "Transportation and the ability to allow businesses to connect to their headquarters is vital."

Every tour was shown examples of research being done at USU at some point. Tuesday, a couple of the tours were given demonstrations of futuristic robotic and space technology, while one group of legislators even went so far as to isolate a DNA cluster.

Much of the research is being funded, or could potentially be funded, by the Utah Science, Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative. Last year, the Legislature appropriated $6 million to the program, $1.4 million of which went to USU.

"Everything that is happening at USU and the U (University of Utah), especially with genetic research — it's whiz-bang stuff," House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake, said. "It's opening whole new worlds. . . . It's enormously important to the state."

Participants on the education tour learned about new ways to educate disabled students, from autistic to the deaf and blind, Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray, said. It was just one of the many things he gathered during this trip, many of which he hopes will be taken to other parts of the state by legislators who made the trek.

"There are programs that I'd like to replicate around the state," he said.

The legislative trip, the first in five years that went to another part of the state, culminated with a steak fry dinner hosted by Envirocare and the Cache Chamber of Commerce at Logan High School — it was moved from the Logan Tabernacle because of a chance of rain — and a performance by the Utah Festival Opera.

More than 70 legislators made the journey, many of them with their wives or families. The trip costs were primarily covered by private donations, especially from the local chambers of commerce, although legislators did receive a two-day per diem to cover their expenses.

E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com