Utah's gubernatorial candidates have many similar — but also many divergent — plans for boosting the state's high-tech economy.

At a Thursday get-together with members of the Utah Information Technology Association, Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. and Democrat Scott Matheson Jr. both said they want Utah to be known as a high-tech hub. Both said they support having government work with the private sector on economic development, having research and innovations from the state's universities leveraged and strengthening Utah's educational system to benefit its economy.

Both candidates said the state needs to find ways to alert the rest of the world to its home-grown tech prominence. Matheson said the state needs to send a strong message that "Utah is open for business" by enacting tax and regulatory reforms and promoting Utah's educated work force, quality of life and other advantages to demonstrate that Utah is a "welcoming state."

He added that the message should stress that "Utah truly is open for business, that it's a great place to live, that people can come here, stay here, raise their families here, send them to school here, have careers here, be safe here. All of those things are critically important."

Matheson said the state's message needs to be unified and focused.

"One of the things that I think we need to do is to ensure that we have a unified economic development plan in the state of Utah and that we're working together across governmental lines with private industry and ultimately developing a focus and common message," he said.

"I also believe, in terms of promoting the state and recruiting business to Utah, we need to work together. We need to stress comparative advantages we have, the accomplishments we've achieved, and . . . achieving that kind of common Utah brand, that kind of focused message, and providing that kind of infrastructure for innovation that needs to occur in our state. Those are some of the strategies that should be pursued to take us in the direction of becoming an information technology, high-tech growth center in the United States."

Huntsman said he wants Utah to be known as a state where "tomorrow's breakthroughs and innovations are going to take place."

"We're not necessarily seen as that today, but when you conclude, as I do, maybe incorrectly, that the next 20 to 40 years of our economy of this country and indeed our state will be driven by biosciences, life and health sciences, nanotechnology and the implications for defense, communications and everything else, either we're going to be part of that revolution or not," he said.

Huntsman said major newspapers and financial publications need to note Utah's developments in years to come.

"We are about ready to burst open in this state. We need vision. We need leadership. We need the assets that are already in our satchel brought together to move forward. This is what I think has been lacking most. We have critical mass, but it is a little bit discombobulated."

Huntsman said the state needs some "home runs" to draw attention from the industry and its publications.

"Guaranteed, we get a headquarters, a research and development site, even a regional headquarters, people are going to take note," he said. "All I have to do is go back 15 years ago to the halcyon days of Novell, WordPerfect, Iomega and others where we were talked about as being on the map. Everybody wanted to be here. They wanted to be here because others were here and were succeeding."

His plans call for tax and regulatory reform. As for the former, he suggested a five-year "forgiveness" of taxes for start-up companies with annual revenues under $5 million. Regarding the latter, Huntsman said, "We can't do everything, but, guaranteed, we can take two or three or four regulatory issues, whether it's paperwork or whether it's licensing — what have you — and make it better. We've never tried anything like this."

Those regulatory issues need input from the private sector, he added, with a regulatory reform team to talk to small and medium-size businesses to see "what it is that is either driving them out of the state or causing them to fail internally and then do something about that."

Both candidates said Utah needs better venture capital. "We need not $500 million in private venture capital. We need $2 billion in private venture capital. And that's a goal I'm going to set for myself, and if I don't get it, you can vote me out of office," Huntsman said.

Huntsman, however, cautioned that "a governor can't create jobs," but rather should work to encourage a competitive environment.

"I know my place in the world. I know that governors come and go and will be soon forgotten if I win. But people who are creating jobs and industry and technologies of tomorrow, employing people and expanding the tax base, will be remembered for something mighty important, because that's what fuels everything else in our society."


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com