President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Wednesday that the LDS Church is a vital part of Utah's economic future.

"I know of no other community where a church contributes so much to the economy," he said during a speech to leaders of Utah businesses, churches and social organizations gathered at the University of Utah for the Governor's Conference on Utah's Future.President Hinckley said the church-owned Brigham Young University funnels millions of dollars into the economy each year. "BYU had a $100 million payroll in 1986. It is the largest employer in Utah County," he said.

President Hinckley said if BYU were to close, about 80 percent of its students would enroll in state-funded universities and increase the number of students dependent on the state.

The LDS Church generates millions of dollars for Utah's economy through Temple Square, President Hinckley said. An estimated three million people visited the site last year and spent more than $10 million in Utah.

"Where else can you find a church that's done so much for its economy or its culture? We're grateful that we could do so much," President Hinckley said.

However, other speakers said Utah is suffering in several areas. Robert F. Bennett, chairman of the state's Strategic Planning Commission for Public Education, said Utah educators need to "shift their area of focus."

"People tend to look where the light is better rather than where the problem is. Too many people say `this is what we teach.' That needs to shift to `this is what they need, let's provide it.' When you focus on the students, you see that the system is really out of whack."

Bennett said many people support the tax rollbacks because they are resentful about putting money into a system that produces students that cannot function in society.

"If that is the case, then it may be OK to follow the pied piper (Mills) Crenshaw over the cliff of stupidity."

Don Carpenter, associate commissioner for planning for Utah's system of higher education, said the State Board of Regents' goal is to increase the access and quality of higher education in Utah.

He said the regents are encouraging high school students to enroll in a community college before transferring to a research university. The system will increase Utah's education quality and better prepare students for the demands of college.

Utah is also facing many social challenges. "We are at a point where what we do on (social) issues is critical. There is a myth in America that the middle-class will always rise above the state of poverty. That myth is in jeopardy," said Karen Shepherd, editor of Network magazine.

Shepherd said most poor people are bitter and feel there is no hope for their future. "The top one-fifth of the people in this country get 44 percent of all the assets. The bottom one-fifth get 4 percent. About 13.5 percent of all Americans are living in poverty."

Shepherd said employers can help reduce the harmful effects of poverty by realizing that workers are parents and providing reliable on-site day care.

Stan Albrecht, College of Family Home and Social Sciences dean at BYU, briefed the audience about several social issues, including teenage pregnancy, fertility rates, divorce and substance abuse.

He said Utahns tend to marry younger, which contributes to the state's higher-than-average divorce rate. In addition, he said most pregnant Utahns choose to keep their babies rather than abort them, which accounts for Utah's high fertility rate.

"We need more effective education in the home, church and schools about social problems and challenges. We're trying to do that with budgets stretched beyond the breaking point," he said.