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Brian Nicholson, Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Michael Blake, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, takes part in a panel with the group, Martin Luther King Human Rights Commission and State Office of Ethnic Affairs at the Radisson in Salt Lake City Tuesday, June 7, 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes the best way to improve the economy in the long run is to take advantage of the opportunities that are available in the short run, a White House aide said Tuesday.

Michael Blake, White House associate director for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, was the keynote speaker at a luncheon on Understanding Policy, Politics and Diversity in Utah.

Noting that minority populations are rising in Utah and across the nation, Blake said it is critical that states recognize the benefits of fostering increased diversity in their plans for strengthening economic development.

"When we think about where we're going and what's happening right now, there is a clear economic case (to be made for bolstering diversity)," he told the audience of about 100 people.

"We attract growth through incentives and innovation."

Blake said states like Utah can greatly enhance their prospects for long-term economic prosperity by embracing diversity as part of their growth strategies.

The event — organized by the Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission, the state Office of Black Affairs and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. — was an effort to bring together community members, nonprofits, small business owners and local policymakers to discuss the importance of diversity for economic development, said MLK Commission Chairman Roderic Land.

He said getting more people informed about the economic opportunities that are currently available would be an effective way to further develop the state's economic base.

"If we increase the political literacy of people here in Utah, that would take us to places (economically) that we have not (yet) been," Land said. Hopefully, policy makers will use the information learned from Blake to create a more inclusive and eventually prosperous economic environment, he added.

"Policy (ultimately) dictates how people move (economically) throughout the state," Land said.

While policy is typically impacted by civic and political leaders, economic growth can be greatly affected by others in the community, Blake said.

"The main challenges are access to capital and access to opportunity," he said. We want to show how to get connected to capital and resources that are available right now, Blake added.

There are programs that provide assistance for entrepreneurs, advice for small business on how to procure government contracts as well as financial resources that are specifically targeted toward diversity and economic development efforts.

Blake said a goal of his office is to engage a million people in the nationwide effort by the end of the year. He said in the wake of the difficulties so many families have faced in recent years, one of the keys to moving states like Utah — and the nation — forward economically is to reach out to as many people as possible and get them involved in helping to support policies and programs that will get more people working.

"This is far, far bigger than party affiliation, race or ethnic background," Blake said. "People are hurting. People need help. And it's our job collectively to help them."

Email: jlee@desnews.com