1 of 2
August Miller, Deseret Morning News
People enter the annual Ernst \& Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards gala at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Utah has the hottest economy in the United States, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Thursday, adding that it's largely due to the kinds of people who assembled to hear him say it.

Kicking off the 2007 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards gala at the Salt Palace, Huntsman said Utah's strong, dynamic economy owes much to the innovations dreamed up by its entrepreneurs.

Ticking off some of the innovations that have Utah roots — from the transcontinental railroad and television to electric guitars and artificial hearts — Huntsman said he expects similar groundbreaking results from the entrepreneurs who were recognized Thursday.

"Once one innovator working in a field makes that big breakthrough," he said, change can come at a blinding speed.

Fourteen such innovators, representing nine companies, received Entrepreneur of the Year awards Thursday. They were chosen from among 25 finalist companies, which in turn had been selected from a pool of 60 nominees.

David Jolley, managing partner of Ernst & Young's Salt Lake office, noted that New Mexico was included with Utah in this year's regional contest, adding that both states share a spirit of entrepreneurship.

"The entrepreneurial spirit is something you either have or you don't," Jolley said.

Some of the entrepreneurs involved in the competition built their businesses slowly over time, he said, while others saw explosive growth practically overnight.

Still others redirected an existing business and took it to new heights.

Regardless of the path they followed to success, Jolley said, "Today's leaders are destined to become tomorrow's legends."

The future legends among the 2007 award recipients represent a diverse spectrum of business and industry.

For example, Amy Rees Lewis juggles her responsibilities running MediConnect Global Inc., a South Jordan-based medical records retrieval company, with several philanthropic activities — all while raising two children as a single mother.

Thomas D. Dickson of Orem-based K-TEC/Blendtec shows his enthusiasm for his top-quality blenders on his marketing Web site, willitblend.com.

And Ron Smart's Salt Lake-based Won-Door Corp. is growing by leaps and bounds as it manufactures folding partitions and accordion-style sliding doors for churches, museums, schools and other buildings.

Jolley said all of the finalists are leaders in their industries, and Huntsman said they are the people who have helped Utah grow.

"You in this room have created ... the hottest economy in America today," Huntsman said. "You've created the jobs. You've paid the bills."

Utah region award recipients are eligible for consideration for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 national program. Winners in several national categories, as well as the overall national Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award winner, will be announced at the annual awards gala Nov. 17 in Palm Springs, Calif.

The overall national award recipient is considered for the worldwide event in Monte Carlo.

Local sponsors for the Entrepreneur of the Year awards include the Deseret Morning News, Digital Bytes Production and Design, Diversified Insurance Brokers, Scherzer International, The Summit Group Communications and Utah Business.

E-mail: [email protected]