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/

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/

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.

Blackfoot continues economic expansion

Blackfoot continues economic expansion

Blackfoot continues economic expansion

Posted: November 13, 2017 5:00 p.m.

Blackfoot’s water tower is seen on Monday. John Roark/

Abigail Vasquez, in green, delivers lunch to the Bird family at Rupe’s Burgers in Blackfoot on Monday. John Roark/

Jose Saldana replaces bearings on a swather at Agri-Service in Blackfoot on Monday. “The farming season is slowing down,” Saldana said “but we always stay busy.” Saldana has worked for Agri-Service three years. John Roark/

“There are housing shortages both north and south of us, and that continues to squeeze us,” Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis said. “So you take that and look at our situation … It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out (growth is) coming to Blackfoot. We’re right in the middle. So, we’ll get there.” Taylor Carpenter / Post Register file

Adam O’Neill, a framer with Five Guys Framing, measures out what will become a wall for a newly installed bathtub at the Snake River View Estates in Blackfoot on Monday. “I can’t believe how busy it’s been,” O’Neill said. John Roark/

City Hall and the Public Library are seen in Blackfoot on Monday. The city’s central location is attractive to commuters seeking a low-cost, high quality of life. John Roark/

New businesses in Blackfoot
• Pappy’s Ice Cream (June)
• Blackfoot Movie Mill (June 2018)
• eCobalt (Spring 2018)
• The 208 Home Services Group (January)
• Artisians Corner Shopee (August)
• Western Edge Salon (September)
• Idaho Renal Center (April)
• Milmore Event Center (October)
• Milmore Downtown Apts (June)
• Rise Fitness (September)
• Ashley Furniture Home Store (August)
• Jimmy John’s (committed 2018)
• Soda Shop/Factory (2018)
• Smoking Gun BBQ (February)
• M&H Historic Building — Retail Clothing Chain (October)
• Downtown Daycare (March)
• D.L. Evans Bank (2018)
• Civil Air Patrol Wing Headquarters (June)
• Pacific Street Vape Shop (March)
• Collecting Americana (March)
• Snake River Animal Shelter (October)
• Tadd Jenkins Ford (October)
• Vasquez Mexican Restaurant (April)
• State Vetran’s Memorial Park (2018)

BLACKFOOT — “Is Blackfoot back?”

That headline from the Feb. 8 edition of the Post Register was the lead-in to an article highlighting recent development here. The article focused primarily on new houses and subdivisions being built within the town and surrounding areas.

The construction was seen at the time as a feature that could spur further economic development in the city of about 12,000.

Flash forward nine months, and several leaders in Blackfoot look back to that article with reverence, describing it as a crystal ball look into what was to come.

“It’s kind of a prophetic headline,” Kurt Hibbert, planning and zoning administrator for Blackfoot said.

In the months since the article, Blackfoot has experienced an economic boom in the region, bringing nearly two dozen new retail, food, entertainment and industrial businesses to the area. Those developments, some of which won’t be complete until 2018, were touted in a recent email from Julie Ann Goodrich, the executive director of the Greater Blackfoot Area Chamber of Commerce.

To accompany the economic success, the continued construction of housing and expansion of infrastructure makes Blackfoot one of the region’s business success stories of 2017.

“Since (February), there were things happening then, but not at the level that has happened (since),” Hibbert said. “There’s so much going on, and it’s something we’ve seen, not just with the subdivisions or in our construction industry, but our retail has boomed. Our food industry has boomed. And we’ve already had a lot of that here in the last eight months.”

So what has sparked this growth within Blackfoot and its surrounding region? While there are several factors to consider, Mayor Paul Loomis believes there are a number of catalysts, one being Blackfoot’s central location along Interstate 15.

“What really sold (businesses) on Blackfoot was being in the center of an employable workforce where you could draw people from both directions — Pocatello or Idaho Falls — and that just broadens your employment pool,” he said. “It gives you an opportunity to not just get bodies but people who are skilled workers.”

The central location is attractive to commuters seeking a high quality of life — with low costs — as well as to businesses looking for an ideal manufacturing or business hub.

“There are housing shortages both north and south of us, and that continues to squeeze us,” Loomis said. “So you take that and look at our situation … It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out (growth is) coming to Blackfoot. We’re right in the middle. So, we’ll get there.”

Businesses such as eCobalt have bought into the economic upturn in Blackfoot, not only for its location, but the benefits the city and county can provide to help businesses and industries thrive. A Canadian mining company with a large mining operation in Salmon, eCobalt announced its intentions to construct a cobalt refining facility in Blackfoot, with the goal of hiring 60 to 90 people, each paid in the $60,000 to $70,000 range.

“The great thing about it is, that’s a relationship that’s established with the mining industry up in Salmon,” Loomis said. “So there’s a close relationship there, refining in Blackfoot and shipping out from Blackfoot.”

Another business that recently made Blackfoot its home is the farm equipment dealer Agri-Service. With 13 stores scattered across four states, Agri-Service opened its 14th location in Blackfoot in 2015. And the efforts to bring an Agri-Service location to Blackfoot was a cooperative effort between the city and county.

“To get the road out for Agri-Service when they wanted to expand and come here to Blackfoot, there had to be a partnership between (Blackfoot and Bingham County),” Goodrich said. “The road cost $2 million, and with all of the fiber optics to get Agri-Service out there, it had to be a combined effort.”

“The county took the lead because it was in the county, but yet you had Blackfoot Urban Renewal support in the fiber optics,” he said. “You had the city in utilities — water and sewer. You also had the county giving some economic support and incentives, too. And only the county can do that. So it was that teamwork that made it happen.”

Bingham County was able to provide economic support through grants and other incentives to help provide Blackfoot with the necessary tools to help bring Agri-Services and other businesses to the region.

“The county has been absolutely key in working with us to make sure that we can be competitive,” Loomis said. “Our relationship with the county, I can’t speak highly enough about their support.”

A catalyst of this strong relationship also has to do with the infrastructure Blackfoot provides within the county. With major road projects underway annually and a state-of-the-art water and sewage system that extends far beyond the Blackfoot city limits, the partnership between the two entities can only help the region’s economic growth continue.

“The county came into the city and said ‘we need the infrastructure,’” Hibbert said. “The city said ‘we can provide that. Can we help you with the road as far as permits and grants?’”

The infrastructure in Blackfoot is another major selling point for business relocation to the area, Hibbert said.

“We’re one of the only communities that has water and sewer access and availability clear out of town, out into the county and into some of these areas where we can develop industries and not be right in the middle of town,” he said. “We are a prime location because they have access to all those municipal services outside of the city.”

While these numerous factors are crucial to Blackfoot’s boom, all some businesses need is the “eyeball test” to determine whether or not they can make it here. And in Blackfoot, the rows of longstanding businesses that dot the town speak volumes to many looking at relocation, or to start a new business.

“You’ve created an environment where people think they can thrive. Obviously, it stimulates investment,” Hibbert said.

Goodrich said Blackfoot is no longer the region’s best-kept secret. These days she’s regularly getting information requests from across the West, including California and Nevada.

“They’re looking for a place to bring their business and retire, yet still gives them the small-town feel where they feel like they can raise their children in a safe environment,” Goodrich said.

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

Eastern Idaho can become STAR powerhouse

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.

Movie theater to open in Blackfoot in June, eateries could follow

Movie theater to open in Blackfoot in June, eateries could follow

Movie theater to open in Blackfoot in June, eateries could follow

Blackfoot seven-plex

Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis is welcoming a planned new seven-screen movie theater to be owned and operated by Kent and Ingrid Lott in the former Blackfoot Motors building, seen in the background of this photo.

BLACKFOOT — It’s been roughly five years since Blackfoot has had a movie theater of its own, but thanks to experienced theater owners Kent and Ingrid Lott, and the combined efforts of many local organizations, that’s going to change soon. And some think a new theater could be the start of more good things to come to Blackfoot.

The Lotts are going to open the Blackfoot Movie Mill, a new seven-screen movie theater that will show the latest films using cutting-edge technology, as early as June. It will be housed in the former Blackfoot Motors building on Bridge Street in the downtown area.

“I’m thrilled,” said Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis, adding that a theater has been among residents’ most frequent requests.

 He said the Greater Blackfoot Area Chamber of Commerce, city of Blackfoot, Blackfoot Urban Renewal Agency, Bingham County, Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI) and even Bingham Memorial Hospital (BMH) have all had a hand in the project that started about eight months ago.

“It’s really been a team effort,” Loomis said, adding that the organizations worked together to answer the Lotts’ questions and help make the project viable for them.

And that successful effort could lead to even more growth in the future.

“With this new development project, chain eateries that have previously discussed starting up in Blackfoot, have renewed interest and are planning on locating in this new ‘entertainment district’ creating an eat, play, and stay destination environment in the City,” according to a news release from the Greater Blackfoot Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Lotts, who own the Paramount Theater and Centre Twin in Idaho Falls, say they have been looking at different options for expanding their family business for a while, and they finally settled on Blackfoot.

“This building really is perfect for what we want to do (and) with no theater in Blackfoot, it really is an ideal situation,” Kent said.

The project almost fell through after BMH purchased the property ahead of the Lotts, but hospital officials agreed to sell it when they learned of their plans.

“They have been fantastic to us,” Kent said, adding that the hospital could see the value the theater would bring to the community.

Jeff Daniels, former CEO of BMH, says economic development and a strong community are important to the hospital.

“When I learned what the intentions were for the property, we knew we wanted to help by making the property available for sale again,” Daniels said in a statement submitted to the Journal. “We are happy that the Lotts were able to bring this together. It will be a great thing for the community.”

The Lotts plan to remodel, expand and equip the former Blackfoot Motors building in the months ahead, and Kent said they will be able to do so for roughly 25-30 percent of the cost of building a new facility. That significant reduction in startup costs could go a long way toward helping the business become successful.

“We’re very confident that this will work,” Kent said.

They’ve also purchased some equipment from other theaters that have closed, including the Plaza Twin Theater that used to be located in Blackfoot, and will incorporate it into their new theater, Kent said.

In addition, the Blackfoot Movie Mill will offer laser projection technology for a brighter and clearer picture and 7.1 surround sound, which few theaters in the state have, Kent said.

“We’ll have bragging rights in Blackfoot, which is awesome,” he said.

The Lotts also plan to make the theater economical for families, charging $7 for adults and $5 for children and seniors as well as matinee events.

In addition, Kent said they plan to offer concessions at reasonable prices.

“I am not a believer in a $12 bottle of water,” he said.

While the theater will focus mostly on family-friendly films, Kent said they may offer some of the more mild R-rated movies, like war films, as well.

“We look at why a film is rated R,” he said, adding that they won’t offer anything that’s too hard.

Kent hopes the theater will help bring more restaurants to the area and make it a destination where people can come to watch a movie and get a bite to eat.

“We want people to stay in Blackfoot,” he said.

Jan Rogers, CEO of REDI, personally, thinks Blackfoot is ripe for growth.

“I’ve always felt, since I’ve been in the region, that Blackfoot is a gem,” she said, adding that it’s located between two major cities, is close to the freeway and has the potential to draw people from throughout the region.

Loomis agrees.

He said they have had several business inquiries recently.

“They key is (people are) starting to recognize the strategic and economic value of the location of Blackfoot,” he said.

Massive seven-plex movie theater coming to Blackfoot; cinema expected to bring many chain eateries to city

Massive seven-plex movie theater coming to Blackfoot; cinema expected to bring many chain eateries to city

Massive seven-plex movie theater coming to Blackfoot; cinema expected to bring many chain eateries to city

Blackfoot Movie Mill
A massive seven-plex movie theater, to be called the Blackfoot Movie Mill, will open in June 2018 in the old Blackfoot Motors building on Bridge Street in Blackfoot. Making the announcement about the new cinema were Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis, Greater Blackfoot Area Chamber of Commerce Director Julie Ann Goodrich and Blackfoot Movie Mill owners Kent and Ingrid Lott.

Greater Blackfoot Area Chamber of Commerce photo

BLACKFOOT — The Greater Blackfoot Area Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with Mayor Paul Loomis are pleased to announce that Kent and Ingrid Lott, owners of the Blackfoot Movie Mill, will be opening a new seven-plex movie theatre in the old Blackfoot Motors building on Bridge Street in June 2018.

This has been a collaborative partnership between the Greater Blackfoot Area Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Loomis, City Economic Development Director Kurt Hibbert, Bingham County and the regional economic development organization REDI.

This theatre in Blackfoot will sport cutting edge laser projection technology, which provides a significantly brighter and clearer picture than traditional theatres, surround sound, stadium seating, family atmosphere, and offer kid friendly summer-programs as well as accommodate corporate and business use of the facilities.

With this new development project, chain eateries that have previously discussed starting up in Blackfoot, have renewed interest and are planning on locating in this new “entertainment district” creating an eat, play, and stay destination environment in the City.

“This is a huge win for the City and the Blackfoot Urban Renewal Agency as it will be located right in the heart of the historic downtown revitalization area,” said Mayor Loomis. “The City will continue to strongly support business development and economic growth through partnerships with the Chamber and Regional Economic Development organizations.”

Northgate project expected to trigger massive wave of development

Northgate project expected to trigger massive wave of development

Northgate project expected to trigger massive wave of development

  • By Danae Lenz

POCATELLO — Thousands of high-paying jobs, an outdoor shopping mall and high-tech housing are on the horizon for the Pocatello area with the Northgate project taking place just north of the city.

That was the message from the keynote speakers at Bannock Development Corp.’s 26th annual economic symposium held at the Stephens Performing Arts Center in Pocatello on Thursday. The symposium’s title was “Vision 2020: Looking into the Future.”

Northgate involves constructing an interchange on Interstate 15 north of Pocatello which will then trigger a landslide of business and residential development in that area, according to the developers and government officials involved.

 According to Buck Swaney, the managing partner at Millennial Development and one of the symposium’s keynote speakers, it’s important to build a place where people want to live — “placemaking” — and that is what he is hoping to accomplish with the Northgate project.

“People have a different approach and view on where they want to work and why,” Swaney said at the symposium. “And places that can attract and can grow talent are the places that can get jobs.… New economic development is developing a talent ecosystem that can attract, develop and maintain knowledge workers.”

The Utah-based Millennial is one of the development groups behind Northgate, the first phase of which is the much anticipated interchange being built along Interstate 15 north of Pocatello. That phase is being made possible by a unique mix of public money supplied by the state and local governments and private funds from Millennial and the Chubbuck-based Portneuf Development.

The interchange project involves extending both Siphon Road and Olympus Drive so that they connect to the interchange and each other. The interchange is expected to be completed by October 2018. The total cost of this phase of the project will be about $21 million.

“Siphon Road extends over from Yellowstone to the east to connect to the interchange,” said Ed Bala, the district engineer for the Idaho Transportation Department in Pocatello and the other main speaker at the symposium.

“What we now know as Olympus Drive extends north and curves its way through that wheat field and over to the new interchange. (The interchange) connects through Olympus and Siphon.”

The interchange project is possible because of the public-private partnership that includes Bannock County, the cities of Pocatello and Chubbuck, Millennial Development, the Idaho Transportation Department and Portneuf Development.

After the interchange is built, Swaney said there are an unimaginable amount of possibilities for the area around it — from entertainment options to smart homes to businesses that will bring thousands of high-paying jobs.

“We’re creating a place where young people will want to come,” Swaney said.

According to Swaney, there are many reasons for companies to want to locate in Bannock County and for them to bring talented people with them — “people who are smart, people who are young, people who see the future and know how to adapt to it,” according to Swaney.

First of all, Swaney said, there is a talent shed — the number of college students in a given area — of 188,000 students within a 100-mile radius of Pocatello, compared with Boise’s talent shed of 42,000 students.

“This is an excellent place to attract and develop talent,” Swaney said about the Pocatello area.

Then there is expected to be an increase of 1,000 local jobs in the next 24 months, partially because of the unaffordability of other markets and the affordability of Bannock County, Swaney said.

According to Swaney, the Pocatello area also has clean air, access to the great outdoors and a business-friendly environment.

In addition Bannock County is “strategically located between all sorts of key markets and places. It makes it easy to get to and from,” Swaney said.

Swaney said he hopes Millennials who are feeling let down by their current situations will be willing to come to Pocatello and settle down at Northgate.

“It creates a place where these people can live well, raise families, afford homes and have a lifestyle that’s great,” Swaney said.

The vision for the Northgate project includes a plan to make the area completely walkable and bikeable. The incoming businesses will be located along the interstate with the residential area nearby. It’s hoped that the people in the new homes will work at the nearby businesses and because of the close proximity to their jobs residents won’t need as many cars per family.

According to Swaney, the average yearly cost for a car in the U.S. is $8,698. By making the area walkable, the people living there could afford to get rid of a car.

“If you can help a family drop one of those cars because you made such a good design, that would almost pay the mortgage payment for that family for the whole year,” Swaney said.

Another plus of having a walkable area is that it will decrease the need for massive parking lots.

“Great places are for people, not cars,” Swaney said.

The houses that will be built at Northgate are going to be high-tech.

“We’re going to have them all, by code and design, set up so that they’re solar, fiber and home-automation ready,” Swaney said. “So when you buy a house in the market, it’s already going to be fully connected to the internet.”

The project will also include a commercial district with an outdoor mall and a technical park with an 8,000-plus job capacity. Northgate will also be connected through walking paths to the Portneuf Wellness Complex, easing traffic congestion after events that take place there. Swaney hopes Northgate will be a place where families go for entertainment as well.

“Can you imagine in your mind for just a moment an excellent outdoor mall … where people gather, and they can dine and they can shop in a beautiful setting with a plaza?” Swaney said. “Can you imagine it being connected to a fantastic medical campus that provides all of the variety of things that you would want? Can you imagine that maybe being connected to an office tech center where lots of jobs that pay really well and lots of talent are able to connect and combine? Northgate provides the platform for that.”

Although Swaney didn’t announce any solid plans for any companies planning to come to Northgate, he was optimistic about the future of the project.

“By 2025, we should have a substantial portion of this development well underway, done, completed, and this district and community will be both healthy and vibrant and something to behold,” Swaney said.

Bala’s portion of the presentation at the symposium focused on the public-private partnership that made the interchange project possible. Bala said the Idaho Transportation Department “had lots of help from a lot of places.”

“I’m used to talking about a project and having people tell me “Let me send you some letters of support. Let me make some phone calls. Let me be your cheerleader,’” Bala said. “I wasn’t seeing that with this project. What I was seeing was ‘Let me write you a check. Let me be a financial contributor.’”

Bala said he is very excited about the new interchange because it has been on the table since 2005. When the Great Recession hit, the Idaho Transportation Department rescheduled the project for 2035. Thanks to the public-private partnership, however, the interchange portion of Northgate is underway now. The groundbreaking for the interchange was held last month.

“We haven’t had the ability to pay for it and then a partner comes on and says, ‘Let me help you.’ That’s really exciting,” Bala said after his presentation at the symposium. “We needed it in 2005 (and) we had shelved it back to 2035. This let’s us get it in 2018. If (Swaney’s) development is successful, that’s icing on the cake.”

Cobalt mine proposed in Idaho

Cobalt mine proposed in Idaho

BLACKFOOT, Idaho — A cobalt mining operation and hydrometallurgical refining facility could be built in Idaho, pending mine financing.

Capital Corp., U.S., a wholly owned subsidiary of eCobalt Solutions Inc., received an economic feasibility study that outlines the development of a cobalt mining operation near Salmon, Idaho, and hydrometallurgical refining facility on a railhead in neighboring Blackfoot, Idaho. The project is known as the Idaho Cobalt Project and is owned by eCobalt’s wholly owned subsidiary, Formation Capital Corp., U.S.

Construction of the project is contingent upon the successful conclusion of mine financing. If completed, the Idaho Cobalt Project will be designed to produce cobalt for the rechargeable batteries market.

“The buzz on electric cars is making it happen,” said Llee Chapman, Formation Capital Corp. vice president of administration.

Chapman has more than 30 years of experience in the mining industry, including time in Elko, where he was involved in politics and the community, and later served for about five months as the director and CEO of Veris Gold Corp., which sold its Elko County mines in 2015 to Spott Mining Inc., according to Elko Daily Free Press archives.

Chapman said that most of the country’s cobalt comes from the Congo, Russia and Australia, adding that “the world is going to need a lot more.”

The total initial capital cost is estimated at $187 million with additional sustaining, reclamation and closure costs of $101 million totaling $288 million.

Approximately 160 jobs would be created at the Idaho Cobalt Project, including 65 in Blackfoot.

According to the recently completed company feasibility study, the eCobalt mine would produce a cobalt/copper/gold concentrate then processes to produce cobalt sulfate heptahydrate, which is used in the production of rechargeable batteries. The company has already invested more than $65 million in Salmon’s mining operation.

 “The economic impact the mining and refining operations would have to this region is enormous,” said Jan Rogers, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho.

The refinery would be the “only one in the free world,” Chapman said.

Paul Farquharson, president and C.E.O. of eCobalt also touted the need for cobalt.

“Our project is an important development for the battery supply chain enabling access to a secure, stable, ethically sourced and environmentally sound supply of battery grade cobalt sulphate, mined safely and responsibly in the United States,” he said.

Basic American Foods Celebrates its E. Idaho Roots

Basic American Foods Celebrates its E. Idaho Roots

Basic American Foods celebrates its E. Idaho roots

Basic American Foods CEO Bryan Reese gave an impassioned talk Thursday that highlighted the gains his company has made in Idaho and throughout the United States. The event, dubbed as a “Celebration of Local Manufacturing,” also touted its relationship with longtime business partner Walmart. courtesy Basic American Foods

Brent Higginson, plant manager at Basic American Foods, gives a tour at the Shelley facility on Thursday. courtesy Basic American Foods

Brent Higginson, plant manager at Basic American Foods, gives a tour at the Shelley facility on Thursday. courtesy Basic American Foods

SHELLEY —For more than 60 years Basic American Foods has called eastern Idaho home, creating thousands of jobs and opportunities to those in the area.

On Thursday, surrounded by its long-time business partner Walmart and various local representatives, the company that dug its manufacturing roots into Shelley, celebrated its accomplishments of the past half-century.

The event also celebrated Walmart’s 10-year commitment to buy an additional $250 billion in products nationwide supporting American jobs by 2023.

In what was dubbed as a “Celebration of Local Manufacturing,” Basic American Foods CEO Bryan Reese provided an impassioned talk to those in attendance, including many of his employees, and highlighted the gains his company has made in Idaho and throughout the United States.

“One of the best things out of all the progress we have made as a company over the years is that we have created over 1,000 jobs across the state of Idaho across five different facilities, and we’re very proud to do that,” Reese said.

The company has an average employee tenure of 14 years, the release said.

But the ultimate victory for Reese and Basic American Foods might be its impact on the eastern Idaho economy. For multiple generations, Basic American Foods have provided quality work for those in the area, helping benefit both the local economy and grow their brand nationwide, Reese said.

Through an outlet such as Walmart, Basic American Foods has been able to continue its expansion, creating local jobs in the meantime. And, on the flip side, the company has gained the opportunity to grow in and of itself, but not forgetting those who helped them reach this level of success, according to Reese.

“One of our core values at Basic American Foods is to make things better,” Reese said. “That goes for the lives of our employees, our team members, and also goes for the communities where we work and live. One of the significant things that we’re very proud of, in addition to job creation, is the donating and give back to the communities where we work and live.”

Likewise, Walmart representatives were in attendance Thursday to help celebrate the occasion and bolster the bond between the companies while also benefiting the eastern Idaho community.

But it was the job creation in the region that really took the forefront at Thursday’s event. It was a topic that several state representatives were on hand to promote and emphasize heading into the upcoming year.

“It was great to learn about the number of jobs that are provided here locally,” Rep. Wendy Horman said. “This was my first visit to the facility, and I was not aware of the local economic impact and the commitment Walmart has to American jobs. These are Idaho jobs, and to the extent Walmart has a commitment to carrying and promoting these products, that’s good news for eastern Idaho.”

And the work within the community was not lost among the festivities. Rep. Janet Trujillo noted that the investment, not only economically but also in terms of community outreach, was outstanding between both Basic American Foods and Walmart.

“The fact that we are highlighting eastern Idaho is a good thing as well,” Trujillo said. “As you watch eastern Idaho grow, you are going to see manufacturing become part of that development.

“It is exciting to see eastern Idaho take the lead, and also when we talk about the great things they have been able to do throughout the country. It highlights the great things that are happening lately within our local communities.”

And ultimately, that relationship, both through manufacturing and through the community, seems to continue this beneficial partnership in eastern Idaho for years to come.

“Our mission is to create ‘food heroes,’” Reese said. “So whether that’s a mom putting dinner on the table, a chef feeding kids in a school, or a camper saving time out in the woods, our products play a role in helping them meet what we call ‘meal time victories,’ and we work very hard everyday to achieve that for our customers.”

For information on Basic American Foods, visit

Fuel facility contract awarded

Fuel facility contract awarded

The first contract was awarded for the construction of a spent fuel handling facility at the U.S. Department of Energy’s desert site west of Idaho Falls.

Naval Reactors Facility spokesman Joshua Heider declined to say which contractor was awarded the work, though he said the company is local.

In the next several weeks, the contractor will remove shrubbery and other debris from the construction site so support infrastructure, including roads, parking lots and fencing, can be built.

The support work contract, which also will include utility line construction, will be awarded in November.

“The site work will be preparing the land for that,” Header said. “Then the support work is expected to begin in the next couple of months.”

The new $1.65 billion handling facility is slated to open in 2024, and is expected to create about 350 construction jobs in the meantime. The building will measure 714 feet by 394 feet, and will contain a 3.9 million-gallon pool to contain spent fuel.

All spent fuel from the U.S. Navy’s nuclear fleet is brought to the desert site for testing, packaging, temporary storage and eventual disposal.

Site excavation is expected to begin during the summer.

“That’s when they will dig the big hole to expose bedrock,” Heider said.

The new facility is expected to serve the Navy’s spent fuel needs until 2060. Employees will transition to the new facility after it’s built, and the Expended Core Facility will eventually be decommissioned.