The gap between the rich coastal region and poor hinterland is becoming smaller, according to Gansu province vice-governor Guo Kun. Mr Guo was confident that within 30 years or so the development of the mainland's western regions would be similar to that of the United States' Mid-West. He said the economy of his province was growing faster than the rest of the mainland. While the national economy grew at seven per cent in the first six months, the province recorded an eight per cent increase. 'Although the gap between coastal and central-western regions is still very large, it is getting smaller,' said Mr Guo. The momentum of growth along the coast had begun to shift to the hinterland. 'The central-western region will see a much faster pace of growth in the next century.' Gansu is regarded as one of the mainland's poorest provinces, but Mr Guo said the problem of 'feeding and warming' its people had largely been solved. However, he said 1.7 million people were still below the poverty line, most of whom lived in mountainous areas. How to handle workers in large state-run factories was a heavy burden for the province, he said. Out of 187 medium-sized and large factories, only one-third had done well. Another one-third had functioned poorly, while the rest were average. Mr Guo said: 'The problem of jobless workers does pose major social problems. 'In the long-run, the problem can only be solved with the growth of the economy.' Mr Guo said recent reports provincial capital Lanzhou was one of the worst-polluted cities had been exaggerated. He said: 'We have made quite a lot of effort on environmental protection. 'Stricter standards on emissions have been imposed on major industries.'