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Leavitt unveils 8 Smart Sites

Rural counties hope to serve as link to high-tech companies

Locations in eight rural Utah counties have been tabbed to be the first of many eventual "Smart Sites" in the state.

Gov. Mike Leavitt announced Tuesday that sites in Cache, Box Elder, Carbon, Emery, San Juan, Iron, Sanpete and Duchesne counties will serve as the first link as technology-based companies look to areas outside the Wasatch Front for expansion.

"I am meeting regularly with technology-based firms who are intrigued with the potential of outsourcing work to rural sites offering trained workers, high-speed bandwidth and state-of-the-art technology," the governor said. "These first Smart Sites will open the door for dozens of similar sites and hundreds of family-sustaining jobs for rural Utahns over the next few years."

The Smart Sites program is part of the governor's Silicon Valley Alliance and is being funded through a $750,000 legislative appropriation. The state hopes to obtain matching funds from other government agencies and private industry.

The development of the initial Smart Sites will take up to a year in some cases as the state and communities market to private industry the availability of facilities and workers for outsourced services.

"The whole point is, we're out there doing what needs to be done to have rural Utah become part of the New Economy," Leavitt said.

The governor is marketing Utah as a place for Silicon Valley companies to expand from their California base, and Utah eventually will see more high-tech firms created as workers form their own companies.

In the Smart Sites program, the governor believes companies will be attracted to rural Utah as a place for software testing, technical call centers, database management, data entry and Web site development.

"In our initial research, it appears our timing is excellent," said Wes Curtis, director of the Governor's Rural Partnership Office. "It appears outsourcing is a real buzzword in the industry today."

Two-thirds of the $750,000 appropriation will be used for infrastructure improvements and one-third will be used for marketing.

Government officials have hailed the program's potential to build on communities' tax bases and keep young people from leaving their home areas to find quality employment.

"Some day soon, our rural youth will have the choice of staying in their home towns and supporting their families with high-tech jobs," Curtis said. "Most Utahns have a soft spot in their hearts for the small-town lifestyle and will feel good to know that our rural citizens will have a way to enjoy their way of life without having to suffer economically."

Blanding Mayor Calvin Balch said people there were "ecstatic" to learn about the chance to be in the Silicon Valley Initiative through the Smart Sites program.

"This program has the potential to have a greater economic impact in Blanding and San Juan County than anything that has been done in years," Balch said.

Leavitt said that if the state offers companies a trained, reliable work force, "they'll beat a steady path to our door."

The state received 13 applications. "We expect and hope there will be other Smart Sites selected," Leavitt said. "This is our initial effort."