High-technology issues top Western governors' agenda

Posted: Friday, June 09, 2000

HONOLULU (AP) -- Expanding the high-technology labor market and improving economic ties with Asia and the Pacific Rim will be top goals on the agenda when nine Western governors gather here next week.

The Western Governors' Association will hold its annual meeting Sunday through Tuesday in Waikiki, with the governors of Alaska, Idaho, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Wyoming, Hawaii and Guam attending.

High-technology's role in the continued success of the region's economy will be the main focus of the gathering. But with fewer than half of the association's 21 members attending, some of the biggest engines driving the high-tech boom will not be represented.

Besides Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who is attending to his Republican presidential bid, those passing on the oceanfront confabulation include the governors of California, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, Utah, Kansas, Nevada, Montana and South Dakota.

The governors of the U.S. territories American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands also are not attending.

''It's an election year, so many of these guys have stayed home,'' said Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano, whose one-year chairmanship of the association will pass to Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne on Tuesday. ''But we will have five governors online so we will be able to conduct business.''

Asia-Pacific economic opportunities and security concerns will be the focus of Sunday's sessions. David McClain, dean of the University of Hawaii's College of Business Administration, and other experts will discuss both the economic health of the region as it recovers from the Asian financial crisis and the strategies states can develop to open doors there for Western businesses.

Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, will speak about the relationship between U.S. security concerns and economic interests in the region.

On Monday, the governors will discuss challenges facing the high-tech industry with Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold and James Weynand, vice president of state and local government and education for Compaq Computer Corp.

The discussion also will focus on how the Western High Technology Council, created at the governors' December meeting in Las Vegas, can help incorporate the latest technology into state government, communities and education.

The development of the high-tech work force is a chief concern, Cayetano said.

It's estimated the Western states will have to train at least 325,000 new, core high-tech workers merely to stay even with expected demand in the information technology sector over the next five years, he said.

That does not include skilled workers for the health and biotechnology industries.

Hawaii, with its isolation and high cost of living, is at a huge disadvantage when competing with other Western states for those workers.

But Cayetano said his state's economic recovery after a nine-year slump is tied to the continued success of the region's overall economy.

''There are some issues in which common ground can provide benefits for all,'' Cayetano said Friday.

Other topics slated for discussion Monday include opportunities for improving public safety, disaster response, fraud detection and ''telehealth'' services through advanced technologies.

In their annual board meeting Tuesday, the governors will discuss key regional policy issues including air and water quality, the ''enlibra'' doctrine of environmental management, the reliability of the region's electric supplies during intense usage this summer and Endangered Species Act reform.

New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is scheduled to discuss steps that can be taken to reduce the risks associated with prescribed fires in the aftermath of the National Park Service prescribed burn that raged out of control near Los Alamos last month.

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