The marriage of science and industry with the state's blessing has passed the critical five-year point, and now officials are trying to determine just what the next step should be in the union.
State Science Advisor Randy Moon led Utah's bid to snare the superconducting supercollider, the billion-dollar giant atom smasher. Utah lost the bid, and Moon now has set his sights on building the state's science education base."To me the thing is we're exporting a lot of students who haven't been trained in the jobs that are here. And those jobs are technical and engineering," Moon said.
Wherever the marriage leads, science, industry and state officials agree it must be coupled with intensive education and publicity campaigns.
"I think it's a separate world," said Bob Lund, Morton Thiokol Inc. vice president for advanced research, of his business of rocket building. "I think it's a lack of understanding. I think it's mysterious, it's witchcraft, it's government-subsidized" work that few laymen understand.
Yet what goes on within Utah's high-tech community affects jobs and the state's future. And letting people, and future employees, know why widgets made in Utah affect the international market is essential.
"I don't know what you do to educate people," said Lund. "It really doesn't impact on their lives until something bad happens."
And reports bemoan how poorly Utah and the nation educate people in science and math - the building blocks of technology development.
The reports show U.S. students significantly behind European and Japanese children in the amount of technical education received. Now added to that is the trade deficit.
"That was the stick" to get people's attention, said Marsha Swerd, chairwoman of the National Academy of Science's Mathematics and Science Education Board.
"That doesn't get you to a constructive solution. It's a grabber," said Swerd, who was in Salt Lake City to attend a science and industry retreat sponsored by the University of Utah.
While officials agree businesses dealing with science and mathematics are not panaceas, they do produce a hefty chunk of income. And the jobs that will fuel the economy in the next century do not exist today.
Parents make a difference in how their children perceive science and math, said Swerd. Even if math has not played a big role in their lives, they're handicapping their children by failing to emphasize the sciences.
"This is not the world your mother is living in," said Swerd, who advocates getting more females involved in science education.
But the grabbers at least put a seed in the minds of parents and taxpayers that science and math will mean jobs.
"Utah really needs a kick," said Moon. "We really need a boost that says we need math and science."
Moon now is in the planning stage of lighting a fire under state and local education and legislative leaders and is aiming for an agenda to take to lawmakers next year.