OREM — Utah Valley is, undoubtedly, a "church town."

That was one of the conclusions of about 40 community leaders Monday morning at a breakfast at Utah Valley State College. The state and national lawmakers, mayors, business owners and educators were asked to discuss the identities of Utah County and Utah Valley State College — which becomes a university July 1 — and how UVSC can help the community.

Deseret Morning News Editor Joe Cannon and the newspaper's Utah County Bureau Chief Tad Walch were among the participants.

A large majority of Utah County residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The U.S. Census Bureau does not track religious affiliation, but one 2000 report estimated the county's LDS membership at 88 percent. And church-owned Brigham Young University is in Provo.

"Whether we like it or not, people brand us as a church town," said Steven Roy, local director of the state's Utah Science Technology and Research Authority.

With nearly 60,000 college students attending UVSC and BYU combined, Provo and Orem are college towns. The community leaders discussed ways UVSC could help turn academic research into businesses and support existing entrepreneurs.

"I think we see ourselves as a white, Mormon, education (focused) valley, but that is changing," said Cannon, who noted the influx of immigrants from Central and South America. "... Is there something the university can do to help them?"

For instance, Hispanic students are the majority in seven of Provo's 11 elementary schools, said RaDene Hatfield, president-elect of the Provo Council PTA.

"We have in Utah County a declining enrollment in college," Hatfield said. "That's something UVU can do (to reverse the trend) in the high schools."

The community leaders broke into smaller groups to discuss regional and UVSC identity issues and cohesiveness.

The groups identified programs at UVSC that must be beefed up to propel the college into the national spotlight. One group proposed areas such as aviation, science and health, business, education or digital media.

"It's like an athletic program," said Val Hale, a UVSC vice president and former BYU athletic director. "You look at other programs (at other schools), and, unless you're Stanford, you're not going to be the best in every sport."

Participants felt many start-up businesses in Utah County fail because they lack capital and good management. If they succeed, they move the company headquarters to Salt Lake City or outside the state. UVSC needs to provide more support to entrepreneurs, they said, which will drive the county's economic engine.

"Our sphere is bigger than we think sometimes," said Val Peterson, a UVSC vice president who said he often comes across students who are from Salt Lake County. More Utah County residents are moving to Juab County and commuting to Orem for school.

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