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A top economist on Thursday warned that Utah's future is threatened by diminishing educational attainments — and on Friday a national news executive expressed similar worries.

"What's going on in this state?" asked Tom Post, managing editor of Forbes Magazine, during his keynote speech at the annual meeting of the Utah Technology Council at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

Post noted that Utah recently topped Forbes' list of the Best States for Businesses for the third straight year. But he said that achievement could be derailed because of its education system.

Reading from a newspaper article that quoted Natalie Gochnour, the Salt Lake Chamber's chief economist and the new associate dean of the University of Utah's business school, he rattled off the issues: Graduation rates at the U. and other state colleges and universities are in decline. Math scores for eighth-graders have plummeted from the top 20 percent in 1992 to the bottom half of all states. And reading scores for Utah's fourth-graders ranked last among states with similar characteristics.

While throwing down that challenge, he also called attention to other "dangers — and opportunities," when it comes to the state's future well-being.

Three letters — NYC — should worry Utah businesses that are struggling to find qualified, technically trained employees, Post said, citing hundreds of thousands of startup companies based in Manhattan.

He also singled out Cornell Tech, a cutting-edge campus in New York City that aims to serve as a global magnet for tech talent and entrepreneurship. The campus is in Chelsea, in a space donated by Google. In 2017, Cornell Tech will move to its permanent address on a 12-acre site on Roosevelt Island off Manhattan.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he envisions an engineering-technology program in New York City on par with Silicon Valley and Boston — regions that also are fostering strong technology programs at Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Said Post of Cornell Tech: "You can be ambushed by what you don't pay attention to."

Post's concerns caught the attention of audience member Clark Turner, CEO of Turner Innovations in Payson. He pointed out that Utah has joined a number of states in focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in order to train future workforces.

"There are not enough students interested in science and technology," said Turner. "We try to reach out and mentor kids and provide internships. We are hoping that we can make a difference."

Post, continuing his cautionary tale, also detailed challenges that the media industry is facing as it wrestles with rapid-fire changes brought on by technological advancements. He noted businesses in nearly every industry sector are vulnerable to the same seismic turmoil.

Post contended that something as simple as a smartphone is driving big, complex changes. Today, because most consumers get their news and information from the Internet, rather than traditional outlets, smartphones act as "a grenade with the pin pulled. It explodes all the time. And just when you think it's defused, it explodes again. This is the way people are consuming everything."

Forbes has had to change to stay in business, he said. The company has gone from relying on full-time paid staffers to using hundreds of unpaid contributors "who write passionately about what they know."


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