REDI ANNOUNCES DEDICATED FOCUS ON EASTERN IDAHO SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & RESEARCH SECTORS

CONTACT:   Jan Rogers                                                      FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

208-320-2136

 

IDAHO FALLS, ID – July 17. 2017 — Due the significant growth in Eastern Idaho’s science, technology and research (STAR) sector, Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI) announced today that there will be a greater focus for this vital industry cluster, including the hiring of a Science Technology and Research (STAR) Director.

The STAR Director will report to REDI’s CEO Jan Rogers and serve as the primary spokesperson for topics and actions tied to STAR industry representatives.

Eastern Idaho is anchored with the largest concentration of higher education opportunities in Idaho, a Department of Energy national laboratory, three additional major science and research labs, and advanced manufacturing.  REDI’s goal is to maintain, grow and advocate this core sector for families, communities and businesses in the region.  Hiring a STAR Director is vital to moving this industry cluster forward and keeping a focus on STAR opportunities in the region.

“This important new position for Eastern Idaho will be solely dedicated to overseeing the unprecedented interest in our science, technology and research sector, currently on track to reach nearly $4.5 billion in capital investment,” said REDI’s Jan Rogers.  “Thanks to the support of the Idaho National Laboratory, Fluor Idaho and numerous industry partners, we will have a highly skilled person in place to manage and expand our region’s core sectors,” she said.

“We all know that Idaho has a long history of innovation, but Eastern Idaho has truly made significant strides in furthering growth and harnessing new ideas to change the industry landscape in our state,” said Megan Ronk, Director of Idaho Commerce. “That is why we are so excited for an even deeper focus on the science, technology and research fields in the Idaho workforce,” she said.

According to INL Director Mark Peters, “A leader that brings together Eastern Idaho’s existing talent and assets uniquely available in our region is critical to INL’s future success. Whether it is building our first-of-kind small modular reactor, expanding our work in cyber security, or strengthening our supplier and subcontract environment, the timing is right to find a STAR Director to advocate and champion our region both regionally and nationally,” he said.

Fluor Idaho’s President and Program Director Fred Hughes stated, “We commend REDI on this focused approach for Eastern Idaho’s large science, technology and research sector.  We look forward to working with the new Director to further opportunities in our area.”

Steve Laflin, President and CEO of International Isotopes also appreciates REDI’s new focus for this regional cluster.  “I am very enthusiastic about the creation of a Science, Technology, and Research Director position within REDI,” Laflin said.  “The region has a rapidly growing set of opportunities not only at INL but with surrounding businesses in the area.  Full time focus on our science and research industry sector will help us better capitalize on the synergy of nuclear technology with medical isotope production and generic Radiopharmaceutical drug manufacturing.”

Applicants are invited to visit www.easternidaho.org to review the STAR Director job qualifications and to apply on line.  Click on the About Us tab, then Career Opportunities.  Applications will be accepted until August 6, 2017.

CEI trustees begin laying groundwork

CEI trustees begin laying groundwork

CEI trustees begin laying groundwork

Aman

The newly designated trustees of the College of Eastern Idaho were sworn in Monday before their first meeting, at which they began laying the groundwork for academic and financial transition from a technical school to a community college.

“Thank you so much for being willing to serve,” said Rick Aman, who started the board meeting as the president of Eastern Idaho Technical College and was subsequently picked unanimously as CEI’s interim president.

The board of trustees, who were picked from 54 applicants to the Idaho State Board of Education, will serve until their seats come up for election in November 2018.

The board is composed of Stephanie Mickelsen, Calvin Ozaki, Park Price, Craig Miller and Carrie Scheid.

The board picked Price, board chairman at the Bank of Idaho who headed the committee which studied the community college proposal, as chairman. Mickelsen, chief financial officer of Mickelsen Farms and the chairwoman of the Bonneville County Republican Women, was named vice chairwoman and Scheid, who has extensive experience on nonprofit boards, was named treasurer. All three votes were unanimous.

The board unanimously picked Aman to serve as interim president until it can complete a search for a permanent president. Aman previously said he would apply for the permanent position as well.

Aman began by updating the board on the current academic status of CEI, which came formally into existence when Mayor Rebecca Casper swore in the board of trustees. Aman said the college already has accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the primary accrediting body for colleges in the northwest, which will allow CEI to quickly offer accredited degrees.

By contrast, it took the College of Western Idaho in Boise and Nampa more than six years to be accredited.

“We’re in a very unique circumstance in that we were accredited as a technical college,” Aman said.

The Idaho State Board of Education already has approved CEI to offer an associate of arts degree, and Aman said the school is quickly moving to get approval to offer an associate of science degree. Aman said the school anticipates it will get approval quickly enough that students who sign up for classes beginning in August will be able to graduate with an associate of science degree. The core requirements of both degrees are quite similar, he said.

“Any course that a student would take in the fall is so generic that it could go into either an associate of arts or an associate of science,” Aman said.

Aman said in the first year CEI plans to rely almost exclusively on adjunct faculty, waiting until normal funding streams are established before hiring on a more permanent basis. A CEI official said about 50 applications had been received for such positions so far.

Price said EITC’s graduation rate has outperformed many of the state’s community colleges, and he wants to put a high emphasis on keeping that graduation rate high. CEI officials said they are working closely with the state’s four-year colleges to make sure education programs are tailored for smooth transitions, and the college plans to use “intrusive advising” to make sure students stay on track.

Aman said the board needs to move quickly to set up accounts that will allow CEI to access the $5 million earmarked by the Idaho Legislature to give the community college a jump start, since the college will get neither local property taxes nor the state funding available to all community colleges in its first year of operation.

“That’s what we would use to fund the college with its initial operating expenses as we wait for tuition and other sources of revenue to come in,” he said.

Aman said the state board will have to release those funds, and it has indicated it is ready to do so quickly. The CEI board must first lay the groundwork that will allow the college to accept those funds.

Scheid said the board should consider issuing a statement to prevent any confusion about its commitment to setting a levy rate of $15 per $100,000 of property value. In its first year there will be no levy set at all — the board’s first opportunity to set a rate will come next year — but she said the public should not be left wondering if the board is committed to keeping the commitment. After accounting for the homeowner’s exemption, the average Bonneville County homeowner would pay $13.37 per year in taxes to the community college district.

“We’re not walking away from promises that were made,” Scheid said.

The board set its regular meeting time as 6 p.m. on the third Monday of each month. It’s next meeting will be Monday

State board selects CEI trustees

State board selects CEI trustees

State board selects CEI trustees

Price

The Idaho State Board of Education unanimously picked five people to serve as the College of Eastern Idaho’s first board of trustees.

The appointees are Mickelsen Farms chief financial officer Stephanie Mickelsen, Idaho National Laboratory public affairs manager Calvin Ozaki, Bank of Idaho board chairman Park Price, Hillcrest High School assistant principal Craig Miller and former Idaho Falls Arts Council executive director Carrie Scheid.

“I feel very honored that I was selected,” Scheid said. “We have an amazing talent pool here in Idaho Falls, and if I wasn’t picked there were 25 equally good candidates.”

The five trustees were selected from a total of 54 candidates who applied for appointment. Board members praised the large number of Bonneville County residents who applied to help guide the community college through its initial days.

“We’re replete with candidates who are well qualified for this board,” said board member Richard Westerberg.

“I think that’s a vote of confidence from the community in the college,” said board president Emma Atchley.

Rick Aman, president of Eastern Idaho Technical College, said the school will formally become the College of Eastern Idaho once the new board of trustees has its first meeting, which is expected within days.

The same day it approved the trustees, the state board gave CEI another big push forward. It gave formal approval to CEI’s first degree, an associate of arts in liberal arts.

“We’re very excited,” Aman said. “We seem to be ahead of where we hoped to be. I think there’s a very good chance that we can show that we’re responsive to the voters of Bonneville County by having some classes (that count toward an associate degree) up and running in August.”

“It’s going to be a very exciting time for us,” said Price, who led the committee created to study the merits of a community college. “I’m very pleased with the selection. It’s a very solid group of people.”

The degree will be an associate of arts in liberal arts, which will be transferable for credit at other colleges where students can advance toward a bachelor’s degree.

The board members will all serve until November 2018, when the first election will be held where voters will choose the board. After the initial election, where all five board seats will come up for contest, future elections will be staggered to allow voters to elect candidates to either two- or three-year seats.

Early tasks for the board include the selection of a president (Aman plans to apply for the new post) and establishing a property tax levy to support the college.

Scheid said the board is committed to setting the property tax rate at $15 per $100,000 of taxable value, as was promised during the campaign in favor of the college.

“We can put all the misinformation that’s being passed around town to rest,” she said.

Bonneville County students will get lower tuition rates than students from outside the county.

There are initial indications that could change, however, as the Bingham County Republican Central Committee has begun the petition process to add Bingham County to the community college tax district. Doing so would require a simple majority vote on a November ballot initiative, and would mean that Bingham County residents would pay taxes to the college and get the same reduced tuition rate.

“I feel like (the community college is) something that can make a difference for the community in the long term,” Mickelsen said. “I want to be a part of that.”

Ammon awarded for fiber network

Ammon awarded for fiber network

The city of Ammon has received a City Achievement Award from the Association of Idaho Cities for development of its municipal fiber optic network.

The city’s project was named the “best economic and community development project” Thursday at the AIC’s annual banquet in Boise, according to a news release. The project won after being judged likely to improve quality of life, solve problems in the community, reduce the cost of government and increase services with minimal spending.

ITD approves construction of I-15/Siphon Road Interchange project

ITD approves construction of I-15/Siphon Road Interchange project

ITD approves construction of I-15/Siphon Road Interchange project

  • By Shelbie Harris sharris@journalnet.com

A unanimous resolution approved by the Idaho Transportation Board on Thursday paved the way for the much-anticipated Siphon Road-Interstate 15 interchange project to come to fruition.

Despite a special meeting on May 31 that uncovered state law that prevented the project’s public and private partners — the cities of Pocatello and Chubbuck, Bannock County and the Utah-based Millennial Development — from spearheading the project, Bannock County Commission Chairman Evan Frasure said the board had a major change of heart Thursday.

“They dropped the demand of putting their $5 million in last and will now put their contribution in first,” Frasure said. “They committed the $5 million immediately and are truly stepping up. They are keeping the exact commitment we asked them to take on May 31.”

Last week, Frasure told members of the Pocatello Rotary Club that having the ITD in control of the interchange’s construction will increase the cost of the $25 million project by at least 35 percent.

“The board is going to take responsibility for any potential cost overruns,” Frasure said. “Any difference in cost they agreed to handle, which is such a change from what they told us at the special meeting.”

The board assuming all extra costs is tremendous, Frasure said, adding that the other partners in the project had no additional funds to contribute and were out of options to acquire additional money.

As part of the agreement, ITD and Millennial Development will share costs of building the interchange itself. The other partners will share the costs of building connecting infrastructure.

“This interchange presents a unique opportunity to work closely with the private sector and other local agencies,” said Board Chairman Jerry Whitehead. “We understand why local residents are excited about this project. We think it will increase mobility and bring greater economic opportunity for the community.”

The agreement calls for the Millennial Development to pay $3.4 million up front and then ITD would contribute $5 million for the construction of the interchange.

“The board recognized that we did everything we could humanly think of,” Frasure said. “After today, the (ITD) board is now my hero.”

With the unanimous agreement, the cities of Pocatello and Chubbuck can begin the process of receiving public support for building the connecting roads to the interchange.

“We hope that in the next few months we can get the public approvals that we need to start building the connecting roads this year,” Frasure said. “If that happens, we will be moving dirt long before the snow flies.”

Frasure projects that construction on the connecting roads will begin sometime in September and will continue for the remaining 30 to 60 days of the construction season. Simultaneously, the ITD will begin the process of receiving public comment and putting the construction work out for bid.

Ideally, the interchange construction will begin early spring 2018 and the entire project should be completed by October 2018.

“We now have a true partner in the state of Idaho,” Frasure said. “This is a truly fair public-private partnership and I cannot thank the board enough.”

Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad has previously stated that several new large-scale businesses will likely move into industrial parks built along the interstate because of the interchange. The mayor said the new businesses will require many workers — and in the end, Pocatello’s population could double.

The Idaho Legislature in April passed transportation bills that gave the ITD up to $300 million in GARVEE bonds to be used to fund new road projects. Frasure said that process was the first real step toward completing the interchange and touted several members of the legislature, including Sen. Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, and Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, for their continued efforts to pass the bill.

“If we hadn’t got the GARVEE funding this would never have happened,” Frasure said. “Without Winder’s support, we would be nowhere and the real hero her locally as far as the legislature goes is Mark Harris, who originally voted against GARVEE.”

After several rounds, Harris eventually changed his vote, along with three other senators who originally voted against the project, which swayed the vote to finally pass with 19 votes for and 16 votes against.

Frasure said that Chubbuck officials are working diligently to secure the remaining land to construct the connector from Siphon Road to the interchange, adding, that the city of Pocatello has signed contracts for the land near Olympus Drive.

Frasure, who first started working on this project as a senator in the early 1990s, said that after working on something for 30 years and to finally see it come about is a remarkable feeling.

“We scored a major victory today,” Frasure said. “And now we will take the first step in completing the largest public-private partnership in the history in Idaho.”

Planning & development services director named

Planning & development services director named

Planning & development services director named

  • By City of Pocatello

POCATELLO — The City of Pocatello has a new Planning & Development Services director.

The Pocatello City Council members have confirmed Mayor Brian Blad’s appointment of Melanie Gygli to the position. Gygli will step immediately into the role from her current position as the division manager of neighborhood & community services.

As the director for Planning & Development Services, Gygli will oversee the Planning Services and Neighborhood & Community Services Divisions of the department.

“I’m excited to continue working for my community as it moves into the future,” said Gygli. “I look forward to working with the entire city team as we serve the members of the Pocatello community.”

Gygli started with the city’s planning department in April 1990. She has held a variety of positions within the department and has been involved in both long-range (comprehensive plan development and zoning ordinance creation) and current planning, as well as managing the City’s Community Development Block Grant program.

“Melanie is a dedicated city of Pocatello employee and is well qualified for the position with her many years of experience in Pocatello’s unique planning arena,” said Mayor Brian Blad. “As a Pocatello native, her longtime residence and commitment to the community gives her excellent insight into what works well for the community, as well as the desire to continually improve Pocatello.”

“During my first few months, I will be working with each department member to make sure they have what they need to continue serving the public and moving ahead with long-range planning goals, focusing on public service and on being efficient and effective,” Gygli said.

Gygli has a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Idaho State University and many years of related planning and grant administration training.

For more information on the City’s Planning & Development Services Department, visit pocatello.us/324/Planning-Development.

Voter-approved projects expected to boost local economy

Voter-approved projects expected to boost local economy

Eastern Idaho voters were feeling generous this month, passing two previously failed bonds and a new measure, all with more than 70 percent approval — exceeding even the difficult two-thirds majority requirement.

During the election, voters paved the way for a community college in Idaho Falls.

They also approved Power County Hospital District’s $14.95 million bond to expand and improve its facilities. And they passed Soda Springs School District’s $6.5 million bond to upgrade Tigert Middle School.

Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis said City Council members will discuss the pool bond election results and what to do next during their June 6 meeting.

Still, voters approved all of the other requests even though they will lead to more taxes. So what made the difference this year? Are people feeling more confident in the economy so they’re willing to spend more, or did they just agree with the projects and needs? It may be a bit of both.

Dan Cravens, Bingham County Republican Party chairman and a former regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor, believes a good economy can help when it comes to passing such measures.

“I think people who are more optimistic are willing to invest in projects and efforts such as the community college in Idaho Falls and the hospital in Power County,” he said.

He adds that voters can spend more if their budget isn’t too tight and they aren’t worried about whether they’ll have a job in six months.

Esther Eke, southeastern regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor, says the economy in Southeast Idaho looks strong now. As of March, the unemployment rate was 3.3 percent. That isn’t as low as the pre-recession level, but it’s still enough to tighten the labor market and put upward pressure on wages, she noted.

Still, Eke says it’s hard to make a definite connection between the passage of the measures and voters’ perceptions of the economy — especially because the hospital and middle school bonds failed last fall and not much has changed since then.

“However it does say a lot about the perceived importance of these projects (or at least the successful communication of the importance of these projects) to the community,” Eke wrote in an email response to the Journal. “Eastern Idahoans apparently feel the costs of the increased taxes pale in comparison to the potential benefits these projects will bring to the community.”

It may have also helped that the Power County Hospital District request dropped slightly from $15.25 million last November to $14.95 million this year. The Tigert Middle School bond remained the same. Both bonds did receive a majority approval among voters last fall, but they failed to meet the supermajority requirement.

While the economy has been improving in recent years after the recession, many are hopeful that these new projects, particularly the community college, will give Eastern Idaho another boost.

Citizens for Affordable Higher Education, the group behind the community college effort, said the community college will create 900 jobs, add $66 million a year to the economy and give people a chance to begin their education at a lower cost.

Jan Rogers, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, calls voters’ decision to convert Eastern Idaho Technical College in Idaho Falls into a community college “a game changer for Eastern Idaho.”

Rogers said the locally controlled college will be able to help draw more businesses to the area because it can quickly add new programs to meet prospective employers’ needs.

Rogers, who previously worked in economic development in the Twin Falls area, said the College of Southern Idaho played a significant role in attracting dozens of companies there.

“We called them our secret weapon,” she said.

Rogers thinks the community college in Idaho Falls — when combined with the other unique educational facilities and assets in Eastern Idaho — will be an even more powerful tool when it comes to drawing companies to this area.

“It really was the missing link,” Rogers said, adding that Eastern Idaho was the only populated region in the state that didn’t have a community college.

Eke agrees that the community college will be beneficial.

“If all the community college does is boost the go-on rate in Eastern Idaho, that would in my mind be more than enough benefit,” Eke wrote. “Eastern Idaho school districts currently have some of the lowest go-on rates in the state. With greater tailored accessibility to education and training starting at the community college, we can expect a boost in the go-on rate in Eastern Idaho. This will have a direct impact on the local economy as Eastern Idahoans are more prepared to meet the current and future demands of employers. A higher skilled workforce can also attract more high-paying jobs into the area.”

The hospital expansion in Power County and the middle school upgrade in Soda Springs will not only have health care and educational benefits, but they could also help the economy.

At a minimum, they will increase construction and possibly retail jobs, according to Eke. She estimates, conservatively, that the hospital project will lead to 30 new construction jobs in Power County and the school upgrades will result in 37 new jobs in Caribou County, including two retail positions.

Preparations for College of Eastern Idaho begin

Preparations for College of Eastern Idaho begin

Preparations for College of Eastern Idaho begin

Eastern Idaho Technical College President Rick Aman poses for a portrait at EITC on Wednesday afternoon. Bonneville County voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure in favor of creating a community college that will replace EITC. Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com

Rick Aman was having a busy morning Wednesday.

“There are a lot of people who are extremely excited,” the Eastern Idaho Technical College president said the day after 71 percent of Bonneville County voters approved a measure that will turn the technical college into a community college. The College of Eastern Idaho will offer associate degrees, credits transferable to other universities and dual-enrollment classes for area high-schoolers.

Technically, the vote means Aman will be out of a job because a new, local board of trustees will have the power to name the College of Eastern Idaho’s president. He plans to apply for the new post.

In the meantime, Aman said he and his staff have begun extensive preparations for the transition with the goal of being able to offer “vanilla” college courses in subjects such as English and mathematics that can apply toward a future four-year degree. Aman said the goal is to begin offering such courses as soon as August. If they encounter delays, courses will be offered in January at the latest, he said.

Aman said they are also working to begin offering appropriate courses online, and to begin setting up workforce development programs to train workers for local employers.

Many of those preparatory efforts will be paid for with $5 million lawmakers set aside to assist with the formation of the college.

In order to accomplish all those goals, officials have to move quickly to hire additional faculty and staff and to retrofit classrooms for larger expected classes. The college also has to get approval to accept federal student loans and to receive the necessary accreditation to offer classes for transferable credit.

Existing EITC students won’t be affected either during the transition period or after the community college is established, Aman said. The classes they are taking will continue without changes.

Aman said he would drive to Boise on Wednesday night, planning to meet with the Idaho State Board of Education on Thursday to work out details. The State Board will soon distribute information about how those interested in serving on the college’s board of trustees can apply. Aman said he hopes that board will be in place within two months, a time frame State Board spokesman Blake Youde said is reasonable.

Aman said it’s extremely unusual for an effort of this kind to achieve a supermajority on the first try.

“This kind of thing doesn’t happen,” he said.

The vote was hailed by many elected officials who had supported a community college.

“I am extremely pleased that the community has turned out and supported this important institution,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls. “Yesterday was a hallmark election day. We’ll see the benefits and rewards for many years to come.”

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said the effort to establish a community college “transcended politics” in a deeply partisan time.

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper said the community college will help ensure that affordability will be a lesser obstacle for local graduates and older residents who want to increase their skills.

“An affordable education is a precious gift,” Casper said. “This is significant in terms of addressing that. I think that eastern Idaho will now have yet another economic engine.”

The news was hailed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who featured the proposal for a community college in two state of the state addresses and encouraged lawmakers to set aside $5 million in state funds for the transition.

“I couldn’t be happier about how the people of Bonneville County seized the opportunity to be the architects of their own destiny,” Otter said. “By approving a community college district, they set a great example of what citizens can do to create a brighter future for themselves and generations to come. I look forward to seeing the College of Eastern Idaho become a reality.”

Andi Elliot, one of the opponents of a community college associated with the Idahope political action committee, sent a similar statement.

The Bonneville County Republican Central Committee, which spent $8,600 against the college ahead of the election, issued a conciliatory statement.

“The Bonneville County Republican Central Committee congratulates those who worked so hard in a spirited campaign to pass the community college taxing district measure in Bonneville County,” Chairman Mark Fuller wrote. “The fact that it passed with a supermajority of the vote shows that the people of Bonneville County overwhelmingly support a local community college.”

The committee pledged to help make the college a success, but also called on the college to honor campaign pledges about the level of tax that will be required to support a community college. The campaign in favor of the college was led by Citizens for Affordable Higher Education, a local political action committee headed by a diverse group of civic, business and education leaders. The group raised nearly $90,000 in campaign funds to support the effort. It appears the heavy campaigning paid off, generating historically high turnout for an off-year election with few other major races. The May 16 election saw unusually high turnout compared to similar election years, largely because of the vote on the community college. “Usually for a May election, it’s not usually this high,” Election Supervisor Brenda Prudent said. For example, turnout for May 2016 primary — which featured many state legislative posts, including a vacant seat that was nearly certain to be filled by the winner of the GOP primary — was much lower than Tuesday’s primary. Only 19 percent of registered voters cast ballots in 2016 compared to 28 percent this year.

“It kept us busy and hopping. We were hoping that we didn’t have lines,” Prudent said. “Normally things are slower, but our workers were busy the whole day.”

Turnout was lower than the turnout for the March 2016 Republican presidential primary, when about 36 percent of voters cast ballots, but presidential elections generally have higher turnout than any other. Support for the college was spread throughout the county. In only three of 51 precincts did a majority of voters oppose the college. And in 35 precincts a supermajority supported the college.


Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 542-6751.

INL and Boise State partner to help Butte County

INL and Boise State partner to help Butte County

INL and Boise State partner to help Butte County

Idaho National Laboratory and Boise State University have partnered to bolster the Butte County economy.

INL contractor Battelle Energy Alliance awards thousands of dollars in technology-based economic development grants annually throughout Idaho. This year the Alliance awarded $17,500 to help BSU’s Idaho Policy Institute implement three projects in Butte County. The grant was one of the Alliance’s largest awards of 2017, an INL news release said.

The projects are geared to give Butte County residents more of the skills and tools they need to prosper, the release said.

The first project is for BSU staff to teach entrepreneurial skills to local business owners and residents.

Monica Hampton, Butte County’s economic development director, said the training won’t be a one-time event.

“They’ll train me, and then I can continue that education,” she said in the release.

The second project is for BSU to provide a technical staff, consisting of a faculty member and a student assistant, to build a website for the county to direct visitors to the area’s many attractions and events.

The goal, Hampton said, is not only to offer potential visitors a place to begin, but also to use this space to market existing businesses and encourage startups.

“We are trying to bring more tourists here,” Hampton said in the release. “But as a region, we do need to make sure we continue to do a good job working together.”

The final project is to showcase the county’s pride in its history, and proximity to the nation’s lead nuclear research and development laboratory, the release said. University facilitators will work with community members to determine how best to achieve that goal, whether it’s through a public art project, signage or some other effort.

“That’s what I really like about this project,” Amy Lientz, INL’s director of partnerships, engagement and technology deployment, said in the release. “It promotes economic development, entrepreneurship and innovation in a way that fits the people in Butte County and will continue to serve them for many years.”

As for Butte County and the 2,622 people who call it home, results will be measured in how they wield their new tools.

“This is a place where results matter,” Hampton said in the release, “and we plan to make the most of this opportunity.”

Perry makes first visit to INL

Perry makes first visit to INL

Perry makes first visit to INL

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry speaks to members of the press after giving a speech to Idaho Nation Laboratory employees at the Energy Innovation Laboratory in Idaho Falls on Tuesday afternoon. Perry emphasized the importance of national lab research. Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry speaks to members of the press after giving a speech to Idaho National Laboratory employees at the Energy Innovation Laboratory in Idaho Falls on Tuesday afternoon. Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, left, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and Idaho National Laboratory Director Mark Peters discuss nuclear energy at the Advanced Test Reactor Complex at INL’s desert site. Courtesy INL

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry spoke Tuesday afternoon to Idaho National Laboratory employees in a packed hall at the lab’s Idaho Falls campus.

The speech capped Perry’s two-day tour of INL facilities, which included briefings on nuclear power and its effects on energy, national security and the environment.

During his speech Perry touted the U.S. Department of Energy; he said that although the governorship of Texas has been his favorite position thus far, the “coolest” job of his career has been that of energy secretary.

It was Perry’s first visit to INL. This week’s visit is the first of several planned lab visits for Perry. While addressing INL employees, he discussed the importance of national labs in science, economics and domestic security.

“I cannot tell you how honored I am to be associated with men and women who do what you do, who truly have the potential to change the world on any given day,” Perry said. “We have the national labs that are going out there and scientifically experimenting and finding the next big thing, and you all are at the heart of that.”

After his speech, Perry threw his support behind INL as a flagship lab within the DOE complex, particularly in nuclear research.

“What Idaho does is at the top of the list from my perspective, and I’ll say that tomorrow when I go to (Los Alamos National Laboratory) as well,” Perry said, reiterating that INL is “going to be one of the lead players, if not the lead player, as we develop and are developing the nuclear energy portfolio.”

He specifically mentioned nuclear within weapons, security and energy contexts.

Many in the nuclear field believe the U.S. is trailing other countries, particularly China and Russia, in the development of next-generation advanced nuclear reactor technologies.

Perry mentioned the importance of catching up.

“Because in the last 30 years, the fact is we got behind in this country,” he said. “And you and young people you’re going to recruit to come in here over the course of the next decade or so have the potential to change that trajectory in a very powerful and positive way.”

Part of that, Perry said, involves making nuclear attractive to the next generation — “making nuclear energy cool again” — and part of it involves embracing new technology.

Perry specifically referenced fast reactor technology.

The DOE is undergoing a three-year research and development process regarding a potential fast-neutron test reactor at INL’s desert site.

The research follows DOE and Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee reports published late last year and early this year, respectively, that both recommend developing a fast reactor in the U.S.

He also spoke of the importance of modernizing decades-old INL infrastructure.

A spending package signed into law last week by President Donald Trump includes $238 million for INL infrastructure maintenance and improvement.

Though nuclear has been and remain’s INL’s primary mission, Perry also discussed the importance of embracing other research areas, including cybersecurity and supercomputing.

The state Legislature approved a resolution this year allowing $90 million in state bonds to be used in the construction of two INL buildings in Idaho Falls.

One of them, the Cybercore Integration Center, will play a key role in cybersecurity research, which is one of INL’s fastest-growing departments. The other, the Collaborative Computing Center, will house a new supercomputer to be used for scientific simulation and modeling.

“I think it’s an opportunity for the state of Idaho to be world-leading,” INL Director Mark Peters told the House Education Committee in March.

Cybersecurity research and supercomputing capabilities are national security focal points for the Trump administration, Perry said.

“We’re not where we need to be from a cybersecurity standpoint; we’re no longer number one in supercomputing. And that is of great concern to me. It should of great concern to the people of this country. I certainly am confident the president shares this concern,” he said. “Exascale computing,” an upcoming major step in computer engineering, “the next generation of supercomputers — both of those are growth areas, and I’d suggest to you the future of both of those will be prioritized.”

Perry also referenced the importance of other INL ventures — everything from biofuel research to M1 Abrams tank armor manufacturing — and how such work affects lives in the U.S. and abroad every day.

“You get to do some stuff that waters people’s eyes,” Perry said. “When you leave here and go home, and you look in the mirror at night, you don’t have to worry nor wonder whether you make a difference. You do, and I’m proud to be on your team.”