A city in the valley peeks over the hills to fresh frontiers
Salt Lake City
As a babe in arms, young pioneer John W. Young entered the lonely Salt Lake valley in 1847 on a horse-drawn wagon. He left on a train three decades later after a Mormon city was built, and he lived long enough to be able to fly back on an airplane into a star-spangled metropolis.Skip to next paragraph
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History like John Young's is as thick as honey on this beehive of a valley, and it shapes much of what makes the Salt Lake valley one of the nation's new urban bright lights.
Son of Mormon leader Brigham Young, John Young was one of the first business entrepreneurs to start the recurring themes in the valley: importing outside money for major projects and the gradual accommodation of Mormons and ''gentiles'' into a once theocratic and now very American city.
This reporter traveled to Salt Lake valley as an outsider - flying over the same Emigration Canyon where his great-grandfather John Young had entered 135 years ago - to see where its future lay.
Just in the last decade, this oft-misunderstood city has been hit with job-seeking migrants, skiers, oil drillers, filmmakers, high-tech scientists, artists, miners, developers, and many more Mormons.
Three-quarters of Utah's 1.5 million people are packed into an 85-mile urban strip from Provo to Salt Lake City to Ogden, perched on a plateau between the dry Great Salt Lake valley and the Wasatch Mountains, similiar to Denver's Front Range setting.
The population of this city-state - of which members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) still are in the majority - has doubled in the last 30 years, with half of that increase coming in the last 10 years.
Ideally positioned in the middle of the energy-rich West, the former ''city of saints'' is a land of high achievers and plain dealers, full of self-reliance left over from the days when the Mormons redeemed a hostile environment with irrigation and hard work. No longer a remote and reclusive province, the valley still retains the lost innocence of America, where people describe themselves as optimistic, down-to-earth, uncomplicated, and full of Western derring-do and conservatism. Industriousness has been a byword ever since Brigham Young tried to name the area Deseret, a word for the honey bee.
The economy's building blocks are still defense industries, mineral resources , and the Mormon church, but the skiing, health, and electronics industries are coming on strong. Defense might have played an even greater role if the MX missile system had been placed in Utah, but the church's recent opposition has all but shelved the idea.
The area's social cohesion and strong pro-family ethos are the legacy of a once-communal Mormon society. The below-average wages and above-average education levels make the area a lure for US firms seeking more productive workers and a pro-business climate (only 12 percent of the workers are unionized).
Salt Lake, however, still shows signs of isolation. A recently transplanted oil executive, for instance, was shocked to find companies using 1950s-model IBM equipment and decades-old accounting systems. Also, the trusting Mormon environment has made it vulnerable to get-rich-quick schemes, land scams, and pyramid marketing.
Never the self-sufficient, wilderness hermitage (''Land of Zion'') that the early Mormons wished, the valley has an economic life that today carries on the theme of dependency, even though a self-generating economy is now developing.
The pioneers' homogeneity broke down late in the last century, first with the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad, and then silver miners and the Kennecott Copper Corporation. As early as the 1890s Salt Lake City proper took on a non-Mormon majority population, and the state elected the nation's first Jewish governor as far back as World War I.