Westward Ho to an `Archipelago Society'

PHILIP BURGESS has seen the future of the West and it works. A former college professor and business executive, Mr. Burgess is a dynamo of enthusiasm and optimism. He is also president of the Center for the New West, a think tank that casts its visionary net over the vast economic and cultural landscape from Minnesota to Hawaii.

Burgess buttresses his upbeat view with statistics, typically in rapid fire: Manufacturing in small Western towns is growing at a rate one-third higher than that for the country as a whole; ``extractive'' industries supposedly on the decline (ranching, farming, logging, and mining) continue to grow in terms of production, profits, and revenues to government; most of the growth in jobs and international trade is in smaller, locally owned firms rather than big out-of-state companies that cut and run when bust threatens boom.

This former Hoosier turned Westerner sees the future West as an ``archipelago society'' with thriving urban centers connected to each other via computer and plugged into the global economy, uniquely time-zoned to do simultaneous business with Europe and Japan. Rather than hunting for fickle big bucks from outside the region, he says, ``companies and communities in the West are building on their strengths, sticking to their knitting, adding value to existing activities.''

Some skeptics wonder where all of this leaves the rural West. And Burgess acknowledges that change - perhaps disruptive change - is in store for more remote areas as the hinterlands become dependent on urban areas. One of the center's research projects involves the future of the Great Plains.

But inevitably, he says, a new West is emerging - economically diversified, international in outlook, pro-free trade, multicultural. ``That's the future of this part of the country,'' says Burgess. ``And it's a healthy future.''

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