A successful economic development program must be streamlined and run by a few good people, not pumped up with tax dollars and extra personnel, independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook said.
Cook criticized incumbent Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter's economic development program Wednesday and praised that of Bangerter's Democratic predecessor Gov. Scott M. Matheson."I'm a Republican in philosophy, but if the Democrats do a better job then I will say it," Cook told the Utah Home Builders Association.
He said the Matheson administration didn't spend much money on economic development but was successful in creating jobs because the program's director (Dale Carpenter) had good contacts and designed a "targeted program."
"As an independent I can hire a Democrat like Carpenter," said Cook, who has previously run two unsuccessful campaigns as a Republican candidate for Salt Lake mayor and county commissioner.
Cook, who proposes combining economic development with four other state departments and lopping off $21 million from the economic development budget, labeled the present Department of Community and Economic Development "a mess" despite its budget that has tripled under Bangerter.
Seated nearby Cook was the state's director of economic development David Adams, who appeared on behalf of Bangerter at the luncheon debate.
Adams said economic development was riding the crest of an economic upswing in Utah during the 1970s and didn't need the funding and personnel it does now. But when Bangerter took office in 1984 the good times were over and economic development was on a downhill slide.
"We aren't making any excuses about it, that's just the way it was," Adams said.
He said the principal cause of Utah's economic decline in the 1980s is not high taxes, but a switch in the state's employment and tax base from manufacturing to service related industries. Adams also noted that the drop in world oil prices halted energy development in Utah and subsequently cut off more than $50 million in state tax revenue.
But the Bangerter administration has adjusted, Adams said, by focusing on the state's young, educated workforce to capitalize on the switch and attract more service-related industries.
Adams explained that manufacturing hasn't taken a back seat entirely in the state's economic development program as Utah's much praised workforce has attracted aircraft manufacturers such as McDonnell Douglas and Lucas Western, he said.
He said "Utah bashing" that takes place during political campaigns is unfortunate and casts a negative image on the state and its economy.