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Economist urges Utah to embrace diversity

Published: Monday, March 29 2010 4:44 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — As a tenured college professor, Pam Perlich knows how to communicate a message to a large audience. As a senior research economist with the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, she is also adept at conveying complex information in an easy-to-understand manner.

Such was the case Monday as she told an audience of about 500 people that in order for Utah to prosper economically in the future, its business leaders had better embrace the state's increasing diversity right now and make sure minority students are properly educated.

"Our success as an economy is directly related to our investment in intellectual capital," she said during a presentation at the Governor's Utah Economic Summit at the Grand America Hotel.

"Because before that satellite is up there in the sky, it's in somebody's mind as an idea, and how it gets there as an idea … is through education."

She went on to say that education is the key to the state's success in the global "knowledge economy," and taking advantage of the Beehive State's growing multilingual and multicultural population will be critical in the coming years.

Perlich said that in 2010, the number of minority births in Utah will outpace the number of majority births for the first time, a trend that will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

"This is an absolutely unprecedented social experiment," she told the crowd of business professionals. "You're witnesses to, and participating in, something that's never been tried before. To bring together people from all around the world … in a community-building exercise."

She said that in order for Utah's economy to fully develop, the state must implement strategies that bolster the educational opportunities of minorities and make a concerted effort to utilize the skills of the top achievers for the future benefit of all Utahns.

"This gives us a reach into markets and ideas globally that we've never had here in Utah," she said, adding that this is a case of needing "all hands on deck."

"We have a lot of serious challenges facing our community … but we have it within ourselves the creative capacity and the economic capacity to … actually capitalize on these new populations who are bringing (productivity) to our state."

e-mail: jlee@desnews.com

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