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Group aims to make legislators into techies

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The Utah Technology Industry Council wants to give the Legislature ideas for improving the state's tech sector, but some members wonder if that will result in action.

Meeting last week, council members had varying opinions about lawmakers' approach to the industry.

Brad Bertoch described the group as "an 'Old Economy' Legislature."

"The new game in town is technology," he said, describing some legislators' attitude as "research never did a . . . thing for tourism."

Rod Linton described the Legislature as "anti-research" but said people have not presented a strong case to the Legislature that research activities are tied to success in the tech industry.

Stan Lockhart said discussions with individual legislators reveal that they are pro-business and also want to be known as "high-tech legislators."

"If you ask them philosophically where they're at, they're there," Lockhart said. "But their actions don't always follow their beliefs."

Linton noted that two pieces of legislation that are key to technology development passed during the last session, but it was because they were specific measures. "There is an intent and desire there if we give them the right tools and the right case to get things done," he said.

Linton also said the Legislature believes that 100 percent of the state's high-tech university grads should remain in Utah, but he believes about one-third should leave the state to get leadership and technical-skills experience that would benefit them when they return to Utah.

"There is a strong, strong pull to go back home," Bertoch said, referring to people who leave Utah. "There's a strong drive, an intense desire, to get out of town, and an intense desire 25 years later to get back home."

The council meets again July 22 and hopes to have a few more members by then in order to have a full roster of 19. It also hopes to have names of people who will volunteer to serve as nonvoting members of three subcommittees that will research tech issues and formulate actions to boost the tech sector.

One subcommittee will focus on growth of existing businesses. Another will concentrate on business incubation and startups. The third will study attracting businesses to the state.

The council's steering committee members will be able to vote on economic development issues discussed by the Utah Technology Commission, a legislative body, although council Chairman Paul Clayson said the council also will work on private-sector initiatives.

"As we go forth, we're going to be a group that says, 'This is what the industry thinks,' and that's going to be really critical," Clayson said.

E-MAIL: bwallace@desnews.com