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The puritanical, homogenous white-bread community of Deseret--as Mormons used to designate their geographical base--is going multigrain, with people of different races, faiths and outlooks moving into the state. Governor Mike Leavitt says that when he came to office nine years ago, 8% of the state's population was from an ethnic minority. Today it is 14%, and when his term is up three years from now it will be 17%. The 2000 Census showed a 138% increase in the Hispanic population over the preceding decade, and a 740% increase in people now prepared to declare they live in "same-sex" households. Some 25,000 people attended last summer's gay-pride celebration in Salt Lake City. Church figures reveal that Mormons now account for 73% of the state's population, compared with 77% in 1990, and for an estimated 53% in Salt Lake City, compared with 57% then. Counting lapsed Mormons, others say the true statewide figure is closer to 63%. The city--the state capital, with a population of some 182,000--now has one of the most liberal mayors in the country. Change is coming from the top down, as church leaders see the value in greater openness, and from the bottom up, as the state's demographics shift toward a more diverse mix.
These two impetuses come from the same root--call it Utah's China problem. With the highest birthrate in the country, the state needs to fuel above-average economic growth just to accommodate its growing population. "It is a young state with a workforce growing at twice the national average," says Leavitt. "We need to make jobs for our kids and grandkids. It is clear we will have to attract many new faces to Utah to do that." The old mainstays of Utah's economy--agriculture, mining and military bases--are in decline, so the state has aggressively shifted its energies toward developing high-tech industries, and needs imported experts to do it.
This is no longer the state in which some 120 settlers from Arkansas were killed for being non-Mormons in the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. Now the gates to the Beehive State are wide open. Five million people visited its five national parks last year. A record 3.4 million skier days were recorded last season at its 14 Rocky Mountain resorts. And Utah is bending over backward to attract science graduates, software wizards and venture capitalists from across the country.
The original Mormon pioneers came to Utah under duress--their founder, Joseph Smith, was murdered in Illinois in 1844, and his followers fled westward to escape persecution. Modern-day non-Mormon settlers will come only because they want to, and the state's leaders know that. So, as if by rote, they recite the advantages of living in Utah: low crime, great mountains, those five national parks, a tech-savvy population with the nation's highest per capita ownership of computers, and 45-min. access to world-class ski resorts from the center of Salt Lake. Yet the image of Paradise Postponed persists. The Mormon presence is always there in the background, a faint theme song that never gets turned off. "My parents think I am insane to live here," says Katherine Glover, 36, an urban planner who moved to Salt Lake last year from San Francisco--and loves the place.