Producers had a solid year in 2017

Producers had a solid year in 2017

Posted: December 29, 2017 1:00 a.m.

Bill Schaefer / for Farm & Ranch
Melanie Jensen, of Firth, and Sherelle Christensen, center, pulls debris from the conveyor belts Sept. 14 as Martin Cruz adjusts the belt speed at one of the Christensen Family Farms’ storage cellars.

Kathy Corgatelli NeVille / for Farm & Ranch
Prospective buyers look on as cattle go through the Blackfoot Livestock Auction in Blackfoot recently. Auctions are just one of several ways cattle are marketed today.

Eastern Idaho farmers and ranchers had a solid 2017, even though it was lacking the record production of the previous year.

Events

Once again, F&R was there at the Idaho Potato Conference and Ag Expo at Idaho State University in Pocatello. Idaho’s potatoes were confirmed as the state’s famous brand once again, and some speakers said the new President Donald Trump offered a mixed bag for farmers with the plans he announced during last year’s campaign and his early days in office.

Also at the Potato Conference, reports showed mixed progress toward overcoming the pale cyst nematode that first plagued eastern Idaho potato fields more than a decade ago. In December 2016 and January, nearly 700 acres were released from the PCN-regulated areas, though some fields remained under quarantine orders.

Idaho’s oldest rodeo, the War Bonnet Roundup, saddled up for the 106th time in August.

September’s 115th edition of the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot had as its theme, “Bigger is Better,” emphasizing its growth from eight to nine days.

Dairy

President Trump’s tough talk on immigration worried dairy owners who rely largely on migrant labor to man their operations.

But some dairy owners, such as the Nelson dairy in Ririe, were finding technology could come in handy making up for the labor shortage.

Dairymen, like many farmers, are always trying something new. Kim Wolfley’s dairy cattle near Blackfoot are pasture-raised. They are turned out onto alfalfa fields and harvest the hay so Wolfley doesn’t have to. They also get a bit of corn in the barn, but the pasture is their dietary mainstay, Wolfley said.

Idaho dairymen didn’t confine their operations to the Gem State. Derek Whitesides, of Rupert, expanded his operation to Hawaii’s Big Island and is finding it thriving.

Beef cattle

During February’s Cattle Month, we took a look at how science and technology are helping ranchers breed better cattle. Ultrasounds and DNA testing are becoming the norm on cattle ranches.

Technology also has affected how beef are marketed. Gone are the days when the only way to sell was at the stockyards. Now, there are a variety of online and televised cattle markets.

Potatoes

Idaho remained the nation’s leading potato-producing state in 2017, but they all weren’t the usual commercial varieties grown in the usual ways. In May, we took a look at Jeff Bragg’s organic operation near Donnelly where he grows 23 different varieties of spuds.

In the middle of the growing season, farmers’ assessments were that despite a late start caused by a wet spring, the crop was expected to catch up and produce a healthy harvest.

Then, this fall, the annual harvest got underway, growers were cautiously optimistic that they’d see a rebound from several years of poor returns.

Barley

Anheuser-Busch, which holds the contracts for many eastern Idaho barley growers, announced early this year it planned to cut procurement by 15 to 25 percent, which could translate to up to a quarter of a farmer’s income. The cuts came after a couple of years of large harvests of top-quality barley, which flooded the market.

But as harvest got underway in August, growers appeared optimistic at the quality of their crop, although yields promised to be 10 to 15 percent below 2016.

Wheat

The wheat crop, like barley, while a mainstay of eastern Idaho agriculture, was off a bit from the previous year. Yields were down a little, while quality was good. The lower yields in small grains were expected to balance out previously glutted markets.

Youths

Adults also continued to figure largely in young people’s lives, such as a group of Hereford breeders who banded together to help 18-year-old Chance Smith get a start in the business. The breeders said it was their goal to bring the next generation into ranching.

There was also Rigby’s Ryan Hawkins who started raising pigs at age 11 and is now hoping his herd of 32 pigs will help pay his way to college.

Tasha Smith, of Blackfoot, showed her stuff as she told of picking a less-than-traditional career for a woman of being a welding inspector. Her experience in welding class at Blackfoot High School has put her well on the way to her career goal.

Saydee Longhurst, of Shelley, blazed a trail as the youngest to attend the first-ever FarmHer Conference on women in agriculture in Des Moines, Iowa.

Allie Ward, of Pocatello, was crowned Miss War Bonnet Roundup for 2017. Her court included Princess Ada Poulter, of Tremonton, Utah, and Teen Queen Jenni Nelson, of Arimo. The three presided over last summer’s War Bonnet Roundup. However, the War Bonnet royalty contest director, Kassi Jones, said that behind-the-scenes “mayhem” meant this year’s contest would be the last and another method will be worked out to select the War Bonnet court.

Horses

We took a look at Steven Wright’s Belgian draft horses as they were used to skid felled trees from the woods on the Idaho-Wyoming state line.

We also featured some of eastern Idaho’s top stallions standing for stud in our March Stallion Issue.

Various livestock

While beef cattle are second only to dairy cattle among Idaho’s agricultural products, other livestock are popular as well. In March, F&R visited with Logan Pearce, of Ririe, who raises Black Wattle pigs, a heritage breed not so suitable to factory-style farming but just right for backyard breeders. Shrimp may not seem quite like livestock, but according to the USDA they are. A couple of Challis men have made a success of raising Pacific White Prawns at their operation, which also produces tilapia and sea bass for restaurants in the region.

Various crops

As the growing season got underway, some growers were trying crops that were new to them, such as triticale, a crossbreed of wheat and rye. Some found it to be a quality feed for dairy cattle, who seemed to like it.

Water

Last winter’s heavy snowpack left little for irrigators to worry about this year. Indeed, the soil moisture remained fairly high all during the growing season, reducing demand for irrigation water.

Then, this fall, eastern Idaho got an early start on the snowpack in the high country and the reservoirs never did drop to very low levels. Water managers are predicting another La Niña for the winter we’re in now that will just add to those reservoir levels. The only real concern is if there may be too much runoff in the spring.

Technology was helping irrigators, such as the WET Stake irrigation system developed by Prescott Farms Innovations that helped farmers save water by remotely telling them when their crops have had enough water.

People

Area halls of fame continued to honor those involved in agriculture and with horses. In March, Garn Theobald, Albert Wada, Wilder Hatch, Bob Huskinson and David McFarland were inducted into the Eastern Idaho Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Then, in April, the Eastern Idaho Horseman Hall of Fame inducted Robert Lee Pister, Duane “Doc” Jones, Reed W. Larsen, Grant Weeks, Tim Munns and Terrell and Jill Lufkin. The Horseman Hall of Fame also acknowledged the loss of two members who had died recently, Elwood G. Wilker, of Grace, and Bill Langley, of Blackfoot.

There was also a look at individual farming operations that have been the mainstay of eastern Idaho agriculture, such as the Just/Reid Ranch that has been going strong in the Presto area east of Firth since 1870.

Eastern Idahoans like trying the unusual, such as Richard and Anita Freeman, of Arco, who have turned old school buses into greenhouses.

Then there was the Larsen Hay Terminal, a Dubois-area hay producer with a Florida facility that came to the aid of Texas ranchers in need of cattle feed after Hurricane Harvey.

All in all, the people, livestock and crops together make eastern Idaho what it is.

Melaleuca celebrates annual revenue benchmark

Melaleuca celebrates annual revenue benchmark

Melaleuca celebrates annual revenue benchmark

Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot speaks to employees as the company approaches $2 billion dollars in annual revenue Tuesday. Mark and Suzette Roth of Palm Harbor, Florida helped the company break the $2 billion mark with a $187.85 purchase. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

Melaleuca employees throw confetti after the company surpassed $2 billion in annual revenue Tuesday. “The fact that we hit $2 billion says something about our product and our employees,” said Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

Melaleuca employees wait for the company to break the $2 billion mark at Melaleuca on Tuesday.  John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

The Melaleuca mission statement is seen at Melaleuca on Tuesday. The privately held company broke $2 billion in annual sales for the first time. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

Melaleuca CEO Frank Vandersloot reads the names of Mark and Suzette Roth whose $187.85 purchase pushed the company past the $2 billion revenue mark at Melaleuca on Tuesday. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot, speaks to employees after breaking $2 billion dollars in annual sales for the first time since starting 32 years ago. A $187.85 purchase from Mark and Suzette Roth of Palm Harbor, Florida helped push the Melaleuca beyond the $2 billion mark. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

When an individual takes over a small, struggling business, it is often with visions of one day reaching the top of its industry.

Whether one is dabbling in a hobby or building a state-of-the-art engineering facility from the ground up, success is always the primary goal.

For Idaho Falls businessman Frank VanderSloot, success has been found from his “leap of faith” journey into the business world, helping turn a struggling herbal supplement company into a premier direct marketing empire with nearly 4,000 employees worldwide.

And on Tuesday, a benchmark sign of business success was achieved for Idaho Falls-based Melaleuca.

In front of a packed house at the company’s Idaho Falls headquarters, Melaleuca celebrated breaking the $2 billion mark in annual revenue for the company.

With a countdown clock in the background ticking until the number was reached, VanderSloot, president and CEO of Melaleuca, spoke to those in attendance, and “tens of thousands” viewing the ceremony on Facebook Live, until the number “$2 billion” appeared to his side. Afterwards, a shower of confetti rained over those below in the three-story atrium.

“It became evident over time that ($2 billion in annual revenue) would happen, but definitely not in the beginning,” he said.

Opening in September 1985 as the offshoot of Oil of Melaleuca, VanderSloot founded Melaleuca, Inc. with the idea of selling environmentally friendly products directly to consumers. Utilizing a “word-of-mouth” model, the company began to grow at a swift pace.

Melaleuca first achieved annual revenues of over $1 billion in 2011, 27 years after the company’s founding. Since then, the company has witnessed a steady, yet brisk rise every year.

The company reported revenues of $1.3 billion in 2015 and saw those rise to $1.75 billion in 2016.

“We’ve never had the kind of growth live we’ve experienced over the last 24 months,” VanderSloot said. “The last 24 months have been unbelievable. Like a rocket ship for us.”

The jump of more than $250 million in revenue in the last year can be attributed simply to good products and a good model, according to VanderSloot.

“Our model is a lot like Amazon,” he said. “We were doing what Amazon was doing, shipping directly from our factory and over the internet, long before Amazon was doing it.”

“I’m not suggesting we led the way (with this model), but we were in front of everybody.”

Melaleuca will join elite company with this accomplishment. According to Forbes, only 225 private companies broke the $2 billion mark in annual revenue in 2016.

But the roots of Melaleuca in eastern Idaho make the accomplishment unique. With many large businesses and ventures moving from more rural areas, VanderSloot is proud that he has been able to watch his business grow to such levels out of Idaho Falls.

“Idaho has a great work ethic,” he said. “We have people who care and people who don’t feel entitled. They grew up in an environment where work is certainly rewarded and respected. That’s different than some cities today.”

“The $2 billion mark brings something to our people. I’m really proud of our people.”

This pride resonates not only through those involved with Melaleuca, but also county officials who have watched the organization’s growth over the years.

“I think, watching Melaleuca (break the $2 billion mark) really does speak of our whole community in Bonneville County, and he wanted to make sure everyone shared in this success,” said Bryon Reed, a Bonneville County Commissioner. “And it won’t stop here.”

With a business success story to build upon in the county, Reed believes stories like Melaleuca could be the tip of the iceberg for what could be accomplished in the region.

“(Companies) can look at this and see that this is a great place to have a business and a great resource center for employees,” he said. “Frank mentioned it today, that when you break the $2 billion in sales it really helps to get you recognized by the surrounding industry of the success being had here.”

VanderSloot is not one to hide his passion for eastern Idaho and helping the community when possible, and hopes his story can help further inspire new businesses to flourish in the region.

“Depending on the area, this is a great place to start a business,” he said. “I’d like to see the city of Idaho Falls become more competitive, in its tax base, but everything else is in place.”

VanderSloot is not going to have the $2 billion mark lingering in his mind for long.

“It’s not a distance marker, it’s a milestone,” he said.


Reporter Marc Basham can be reached at 208-542-6763.

Economic development partnership lays foundation for growth

Economic development partnership lays foundation for growth

Economic development partnership lays foundation for growth

Jan Rogers, CEO for the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), poses for a portrait along the Snake River on Dec. 15. Rogers was central to Magic Valley’s good fortune during its recent economic boom, serving at the time as executive director of the region’s Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Jan Rogers, CEO for the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), wants to capitalize on the scientific research conducted by several private-sector technology companies, Idaho State University, Brigham Young University-Idaho and the Idaho National Laboratory. She also touts the influence of the College of Eastern Idaho, ISU-Idaho Falls and the region’s “five diverse federal programs,” including an expanding FBI center in Pocatello. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Jan Rogers, CEO for the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), poses for a portrait along the Snake River on Friday, December 15, 2017. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Jan Rogers believes the foundation for a regional economic boom is being laid because eastern Idaho’s small cities and counties no longer view themselves as competing for growth.

Rather, Rogers explained they’re beginning to embrace their roles as players in a burgeoning innovation corridor — stretching 78 miles from Pocatello to Rexburg, book-ended by major universities and home to a collective population base of about 300,000.

Rogers is the CEO of Regional Economic Development Eastern Idaho, a 2-year-old organization seeking to market all 14 eastern Idaho counties together to make a greater impression during business recruitment.

“This is the first time eastern Idaho has tried to put together a regional approach to development,” Rogers said. “We’re a much bigger target as a region.”

When REDI launched in 2015, its membership included Bonneville and Bingham counties and the cities of Idaho Falls, Shelley, Blackfoot, Ammon and Ucon. Rexburg joined early this year. City leaders with Chubbuck and Pocatello initially opposed membership in REDI, but recently have been won over. Chubbuck joined in April, and Pocatello followed in November.

Though Rogers emphasizes REDI is still in its infancy, she’s optimistic about a few early successes and believes announcements of major business expansions may be on the horizon.

One of the first companies Rogers targeted through REDI, eCobalt Solutions Inc., recently announced plans to open a cobalt mine in Salmon, and a refinery, representing a roughly $100 million capital investment, in Blackfoot.

About a year and a half ago, REDI representatives attended the Select USA conference in Washington, D.C., where they made believers of a Japanese technology company, Sakae Casting.

Sakae hopes to manufacture casks in eastern Idaho for intermediate storage of spent nuclear fuel rods. The company has received a grant from the Idaho Department of Commerce to partner with University of Idaho, Boise State University and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies to test its concept.

Park Price, who serves as chairman of the boards of REDI, Bank of Idaho and College of Eastern Idaho, said another company that works closely with Sakae also is investigating sites in the region, and the innovation corridor has begun to generate a “buzz” among Japanese companies.

“There are five or six other significant projects underway at various stages that would like to locate here if they can solve some of the issues they’re looking at,” Price said. “If they can solve them, then we’ll have announcements.”

REDI operates on an annual budget of about $500,000 — 35 percent of which comes from cities and counties, and the remainder contributed by private businesses.

A proven track record

In 2011, while most other regional economies were recovering from the Great Recession, Idaho’s Magic Valley launched a rapid economic growth trend that hasn’t slowed.

Starting with Chobani Greek Yogurt, food manufacturers and companies providing support services announced a flurry of commitments to build within the region.

Rogers was central to Magic Valley’s good fortune, serving at the time as executive director of the region’s Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization.

Rogers explained her long-term strategy was to capitalize on Magic Valley’s agricultural economy and brand the region as “America’s most diverse food basket.”

Growth began attracting more growth. Chobani’s decision prompted Cliff Bar to investigate southern Idaho and move forward with its own regional plant.

During a 10-month period, Rogers said Magic Valley added 5,000 direct and indirect jobs and about $800 million in capital investments. The Twin Falls Times-News credited Rogers with making 35 new business announcements during her 14-year career.

“It was ridiculous,” Rogers said. “It started to snowball, and it’s continuing to this day.”

The identity she’s pushing capitalizes on the scientific research conducted by several private-sector technology companies, Idaho State University, Brigham Young University-Idaho and Idaho National Laboratory. She also touts the influence of the College of Eastern Idaho, ISU-Idaho Falls and the region’s “five diverse federal programs,” including an expanding FBI center in Pocatello.

Rogers added that the largest project in the state broke ground at the INL this year — the U.S. Navy’s $1.65 billion spent fuel facility. Furthermore, NuScale Power LLC has selected INL as the site for a planned small modular reactor, representing a roughly $1.8 billion investment. The company vows it will provide the “next generation of advanced nuclear technology.”

Rogers explained she and her staff have attended conferences and submitted articles to economic development publications to raise awareness about the happenings at the INL and other regional innovations that have thus far captured too little attention.

To further its regional innovation goals, REDI recently added a fourth staff member, former Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham, to serve as director of science, technology and research.

Price explained REDI has efforts underway to address a missed opportunity for the region — eastern Idaho’s universities are graduating thousands of skilled students, but most feel compelled to look elsewhere for work.

Price said REDI is promoting the opportunity for companies to have “first whack” at the region’s new college graduates in its recruitment efforts. The organization also commissioned a Rexburg company to research why millennials choose to stay or leave the region, and REDI plans to form a workgroup of “high-performing” millennials to devise a strategy for attracting and retaining young talent.

REDI’s false start in southeast Idaho

Price admits he thought REDI would be an easy sell to eastern Idaho counties and cities when a group of regional business and civic leaders first proposed to coordinate their economic development efforts.

Indeed, Idaho Falls and Bingham County dissolved their individual economic development entities and embraced REDI as a better path forward. The fledgling organization hit a snag, however, in southeast Idaho, where the local growth organization, Bannock Development Corp., opposed joining REDI.

“The concept was Bannock Development would go away and REDI would be a single economic development tool from Rexburg to the Utah border,” said Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England. “I was not on board with that.”

Price, the former owner of a Pocatello car dealership, admits REDI proponents initially were humbled because “we didn’t listen well enough.”

Once Rogers joined REDI, however, the organization refined its role — offering to provide regional marketing services and a first point of contact to companies wishing to schedule several site visits throughout the region. Bannock Development now takes over when companies need more information on a site in southeast Idaho.

“REDI has told us they want to make Bannock Development a stronger organization,” said England, whose taxpayers give REDI $12,000 per year, based on Chubbuck’s population. “It’s a bigger light. It makes us more visible.”

John Regetz, Bannock Development’s president and CEO, said his organization has had a hand in several recent business expansions, including the new Western States Caterpillar building, the planned expansions of the local FBI center and Great Western Malting Plant and the recent addition of Buchanan & Edwards, a data processing, analysis and cyber security company.

“We view REDI as offering another marketing avenue to the outside world,” Regetz said. “This is a different model than we saw before.”

Pocatello will contribute $30,000 per year to REDI, said Mayor Brian Blad. Based on his community’s recent economic development successes and Idaho Department of Labor statistics showing a regional unemployment rate of just 2.3 percent, as well as wage growth of 11 percent from July 2016 to July 2017, Blad said Pocatello was in no hurry to join REDI. Blad said the City Council recently concluded Bannock Development has gotten so busy it “no longer has the time to market the way we would like them to, so REDI is going to be our marketing arm.”

“You talk to the governor, and Pocatello has been growing faster economic development-wise than any other community in the state,” Blad said.

Bannock County Commissioners, who have yet to join REDI, declined to comment, indicating membership is not currently “on their radar.” Price said REDI has made a few presentations to the county, but progress has been stymied by recent turnover within the commission.

CEI, U of I announce joint admission deal

CEI, U of I announce joint admission deal

CEI, U of I announce joint admission deal

Aman

Falcons who wish to get a bachelor’s degree will now be able to become Vandals without filling out a transfer application.

The joint admission and joint enrollment agreement between the College of Eastern Idaho and the University of Idaho is the first such between any university and community college in the state, said Marc Skinner, executive officer of U of I’s Idaho Falls Center.

The agreement will let students who get an associate degree at CEI register for classes and continue at any U of I location.

“I hope that this serves as a template and that there can be other similar partnerships,” Skinner said. “You have to start and do it and learn. It’s a perfect time here because of the newly created college and their desire to think outside the box and try some things, and, of course, they’re just building so the timing was perfect for us to do this.”

CEI’s Board of Trustees plans to adopt the agreement at its meeting Wednesday, which will begin at 6 p.m. in Room 6164 on CEI’s campus. The meeting should be a busy one; the board also plans to vote on its choice for college president. The four finalists for the job participated in public forums in Idaho Falls in late November.

Students who are enrolled at CEI now will be able to take advantage of the joint admission agreement if they fill out the application and meet U of I’s minimum requirements, said CEI spokesman Todd Wightman.

CEI interim President Rick Aman called the deal “an outward expression of our college’s commitment to work with community college students in an innovative way.”

“These students will recognize CEI as a path beyond a two-year associate degree toward a bachelor’s degree with our university partner,” he said. “This agreement is unique in Idaho as it enables a community college student to enroll both at CEI and U of I with a bachelor’s degree as their end goal.”

Students who are accepted for joint admission will be given an email address from both schools and pay tuition and fees associated with whichever institution is offering a specific course, and U of I will have advising spaces on the CEI campus for students in the joint program.

“I think it’s innovative and it’s going to help a lot of people,” Wightman said.

In the news release announcing the deal, the two institution said it would make it easier for people in eastern Idaho to get a bachelor’s degree and help to move the state toward its goal of increasing the number of adults with a degree.

“Offering the option of joint enrollment will provide a seamless transition for students who continue their education beyond their associate degree,” U of I President Chuck Staben said in a release. “This effort will more clearly communicate professional pathways for students and raise the educational attainment rates of the region and the state.”

Researchers collaborating on potentially important project

Researchers collaborating on potentially important project

Researchers collaborating on potentially important project

Posted: December 11, 2017 5:11 p.m.

A used fuel road storage pool at Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Test Reactor facilitity. Post Register file

Cleanup contractors move used fuel rods at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center at the U.S. Department of Energy’s desert site west of Idaho Falls. Courtesy of Fluor Idaho

Richard Christensen, University of Idaho director of engineering and Center for Advanced Energy Studies UI associate director, left, and UI Assistant Professor R. A. Borrelli pose for a photo on Thursday. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Richard Christensen, University of Idaho director of engineering and Center for Advanced Energy Studies UI associate director, left, and UI Assistant Professor R. A. Borrelli pose for a photo on Thursday. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Local researchers are designing a product that could change the nuclear industry. Like many good ideas, it started on a napkin.

Executives from Tokyo-based Sakae Casting visited Idaho Falls in 2016 to determine where to open their first U.S. office. They brought a sample of their proprietary product: a thin aluminum plate embedded with a U-shaped cooling tube.

In a meeting with local economic development representatives and researchers, Sakae CEO Takashi Suzuki posed a simple question: can this be used in the nuclear industry?

University of Idaho Nuclear Engineering Director Richard Christensen sketched a design that incorporated the plates. On the napkin: a new nuclear fuel storage cask.

The cask would allow a new type of temporary dry storage. The casks would be used after fuel cools in expensive and spatially limited on-site reactor storage pools, and before fuel is sealed in permanent concrete cask storage.

Sakae executives liked the idea and opened an Idaho Falls office in April. Cask design work is underway at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, which is a research consortium between local universities and Idaho National Laboratory.

The project is funded largely by a $237,898 grant through the Idaho Department of Commerce.

Christensen thinks the new cask design has the potential to change nuclear fuel management as well as establish a new model for Gem State economic development.

“It’s not just this little research project we’ll have great fun with, it’s something that holds some real import for the state of Idaho and Idaho Falls in particular,” he said. “During a previous meeting, the Sakae CEO stood up in front of the commerce board and said ‘I have business contacts in Japan, and if this works they will come and do the same thing we are.’”

Currently, used fuel rods spend 15 to 20 years cooling in on-site storage pools before they are safe for transport to permanent concrete storage casks.

Storage pools — complete with circulation pumps and temperature control instrumentation — are expensive to build, and they contain only so many rods before a new pool must be built.

“Companies running out of space is a credible problem that’s growing,” said UI Nuclear Engineering Assistant Professor R. A. Borrelli, who is working on the cask project. “And it’s closer to dire in places like Korea or Japan.”

The new cask would be composed of composite plates made from aluminum and boron. The neutron- and gamma-absorbing plates would contain Sakae’s cooling tubes, which would improve temperature cooling properties.

If they work as envisioned, the aluminum casks will contain fuel rods for 10 to 15 years after they’ve already spent five to eight years in storage pools. After cooling in the aluminum casks, fuel would be moved to permanent concrete storage.

Casks would be applicable to fuel used by most types of reactors, including the test facilities at INL, or commercial generators used all over the world.

Researchers don’t believe the aluminum casks will require special storage conditions, therefore they are intended to provide reactor operators a cheaper alternative to building additional storage pools.

“The pools are filling up, so operators can either build a completely new pool or something else. We’re trying to provide the something else,” Christensen said. “We’re creating a middle ground that should save utilities time and money.”

They both agreed the Center for Advanced Energy Studies provides ample opportunity to collaboratively research such issues. The building contains offices for both individuals, as well as for Boise State University and INL researchers also working on the project.

“It’s easy to walk 100 feet and say ‘Hey, I need to talk to you about something,’” Borrelli said. “It’s harder to do that when someone works on the other side of the state.”

The Department of Commerce grant, administered through the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission, encompasses a one-year design timeline.

In March, Sakae will build a small-scale cask prototype for testing purposes, Sakae Sales Manager Takayuki Kitazumi said. Company representatives also will approach energy companies to gauge commercial interest in the product.

“We want to make sure there are customers out there willing to say ‘If you can make this work the way you claim you can, then we’re very interested in seeing that process go forward,’” Christensen said.

If the cask’s design is effective and its cost viable at the end of the yearlong research period, Sakae likely will build a factory in Idaho roughly five years from now to manufacture the containers, Kitazumi said.

The casks built here could warrant global interest, Borrelli said.

“There’s a larger context at work than just building something neat. Nuclear reactors are very similar pretty much everywhere. If it works, Sakae can export these to lots of other countries — they can effectively start a whole new industry,” he said.

Kitazumi said executives from one of Sakae’s sister companies, automated manufacturing firm Atom Co., visited Idaho last week, and are considering their own Gem State facilities in order to develop technology for the agriculture industry.

The cask project could further raise the international economic profile of eastern Idaho and its unique mix of research and development infrastructure and personnel, Borrelli said.

“This is a big deal for us because it’ll open the door for a lot more companies to come to Idaho and put down some offices and see what kind of business they can do. According to Sakae’s CEO, that was part of their whole intent,” he said.

“That’s what we’re working toward,” Christensen added. “Being able to successfully complete this because we know there’s a lot hanging on it.”


Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 208-542-6762.

Marketing of E. Idaho through REDI now includes Pocatello

Guest column: Marketing of E. Idaho through REDI now includes Pocatello

The city of Pocatello’s decision to join REDI will make eastern Idaho a region rich with economic potential, writes Steve Taggart.

Last week, the city of Pocatello officially joined Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI).

That is significant move because it now means that Idaho Falls, Chubbuck, Ammon, Ucon, Blackfoot, Shelley, Rexburg, Bonneville County and Bingham County are all aligned under a single umbrella to promote Eastern Idaho as a whole.

REDI CEO Jan Rogers was quoted in local media: “Adding Pocatello as member of our organization furthers REDI’s efforts to secure strong regionalism and better market the entire Eastern Idaho corridor.” That is an understatement.

Eastern Idaho, like many parts of Idaho, has historically had an array of local economic development organizations in the area often bumping elbows to compete for the same projects.

But, all these small economic development efforts suffered from a significant handicap. An individual city or county, if marketed on its own, only has its own limited resources to offer. Idaho Falls is the largest community in the region. It can offer a population base of roughly 60,000, proximity to the Idaho National Laboratory and one standalone institution of higher education, the new College of Eastern Idaho. Most communities have even less to offer.

But, the region as a whole has significant size to attract the attention of companies looking to relocate. The population of the corridor from Rexburg to Pocatello exceeds 300,000 and takes only a bit more than an hour to traverse.

There are a multitude of institutions of higher education: Idaho State University, Brigham Young University-Idaho and the College of Eastern Idaho.

The idea of regional economic development was originally pushed by Bank of Idaho chairman Park Price. He bent the ear of local elected officials and those involved in regional economic development and sold them on the concept.

REDI also recently landed outgoing Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham for the newly created position of Science Technology and Research Director. Kirkham previously worked for the federal government, CIA and the State Department. She’ll focus on leveraging the Idaho National Laboratory, local high-tech companies and local college and universities to nurture economic activity that has a technology or scientific flavor. She is smart and well connected.

The next question is which other regional cities and counties will join REDI? Rigby, Soda Springs, Driggs, St. Anthony, Ashton and Arco all should seriously look at aligning, as should the surrounding counties.

In some sense, aggressive economic development seems unnecessary right now. Eastern Idaho today enjoys low unemployment and a continual influx of companies. But, the region is overly dependent on agriculture and the Idaho National Laboratory.

Expanding and diversifying the economic base is the best way to maximize future prosperity. The willingness of so much of Eastern Idaho to fuse together under the REDI banner is a huge development. Concerted efforts should yield an even higher rate of new companies moving to the region and better retention and expansion of existing enterprises. It all bodes well for Eastern Idaho’s future.