Nov
10
2017

Eastern Idaho can become STAR powerhouse

Guest column: E. Idaho can become STAR powerhouse

Eastern Idaho has all the tools to become a science, technology and research powerhouse, writes Dana Kirkham.

Eastern Idaho’s economic competition is no longer limited to neighboring states and cities vying for talent, jobs and development. More often we are competing with states across the nation and countries throughout the world, which are increasingly sophisticated in their approach and ability to execute strategically.

Eastern Idaho cannot afford to be left behind. We are all in this together. In order to succeed, we must be equally strategic in leveraging our assets and coordinating our efforts.

The Regional Economic Development Eastern Idaho’s (REDI) new Science Technology and Research (STAR) position is focused on building a robust science, technology and research cluster along the eastern Idaho corridor. Our region has all the elements of success at our fingertips.

Economist Alfred Marshall identified in his “Marshall’s trinity” three advantages of specified clusters: a pool of skilled labor, knowledge spillovers and inter-firm linkages. We have all three of these things here in eastern Idaho.

Our region includes two major universities, Idaho State University and Brigham Young University-Idaho. The newly formed College of Eastern Idaho and outreach programs from the University of Idaho compliment both institutions.

All are working to build a “pool of skilled labor” for the 14 counties in eastern Idaho to meet the emerging needs in the STAR focus, including:

• 350 new jobs at the soon-to-be-built FBI facility in Pocatello;

• Challenges associated with growth and an aging workforce at Idaho National Laboratory, where 30 percent of its roughly 4,200 employees are at least 50 years of age;

• The need for healthcare professions at the five hospitals in the region; and

“Knowledge spillover” occurs when an idea or innovation stimulates improvements in a neighboring company or organization. Because eastern Idaho has the benefit of five federal programs (the FBI, U.S. Navy, Homeland Security, Department of Defense and Department of Energy), “knowledge spillovers” are becoming increasingly abundant.

We have great stories to tell in this area. For instance, Inergy in Pocatello needed to determine how an advanced generation of lithium-ion battery cells used in their products would perform under various conditions. Partnering with INL’s Battery Testing Center, Inergy was able to utilize expensive technology available to them because of federal programs located in our region.

These five federal programs also help facilitate “inter-firm linkages,” building a highly efficient industry supply chain. For instance, Blackfoot-located Premier Technology’s clients include the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. Its 300 employees built a global manufacturing company that is a leader in the field of science and technology. Furthermore, of the hundreds of millions of dollars the Department of Energy allocated in supply chain needs with small businesses in Idaho for Fiscal Year 2017, 62 percent were spent in eastern Idaho.

This robust private-public sector synergy is our foundation. It can create an economy that improves everyone’s quality of life and allows our children to build careers and raise their families here in eastern Idaho.

I’m thrilled to be part of this effort. I’m confident that, with all of us working together, we will succeed in building upon our strengths and proving to the world there is no better place to do business than right here.