Utah not only can survive the United States' worsening economic woes but should be striving to have the best economy in the nation, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Wednesday.

"Our state is resilient and it is strong," Huntsman said during a speech at the Utah Foundation's annual meeting that included the release of the nonprofit research organization's top 10 issues of concern to Utah voters this election year.

That list, the result of a statewide poll taken in January, identified energy issues, including the cost of utilities and gasoline, as the top concern of Utahns followed by education, taxes, health care, immigration, crime, water, the environment, transportation and growth.

The foundation first polled Utahns in 2004, and the results then played a prominent role in the governor's race between Huntsman and Democrat Scott Matheson Jr. as both candidates focused on education, then the public's top priority.

Utah's schools were expected to once again top the list, but foundation president Stephen Kroes said "the hit on family budgets from rising gas prices has made energy issues the number one concern in this year's survey."

Huntsman acknowledged in his speech that Utah has been buffeted by the nation's bad economy, which he described as a possible recession resulting from the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

The governor, who campaigned for his first term on the need to strengthen the economy to pay for schools, said Utah has strong fundamentals that will protect the state against a national economic downturn. Those fundamentals include a young, productive population; a well-managed state that has produced a surplus three years in a row; and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.

Huntsman said, though, that Utah needs to stay focused on building for the future.

"It's easy in politics to get pulled away to the daily and the mundane and the ephemeral," rather that planning for the role Utah should be playing in an increasingly global marketplace, the governor said.

The state, he said, should have a goal of becoming the premier economy in the United States. Huntsman said, for example, Utah's technical training programs are being evaluated this summer to ensure enough mechanics and other workers are being trained.

Businesses also need help with health-care costs, the governor said, warning that the current health-care system is "economically unsustainable." He said the increases in costs are "eating small businesses alive."

Huntsman also called for more research and development in medicine and other high-tech areas.

Utah Foundation poll's top 10 issues of concern for '08

1. Energy issues, including utilities and gas prices

2. K-12 education

3. Taxes and government spending

4. Health care

5. Immigration

6. Crime and security

7. Water supply and quality

8. Environmental issues, including air quality and pollution

9. Transportation and traffic

10. Dealing with Utah's growth


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