In the economic development world, there are industry clusters. Idaho’s Panhandle has a forestry cluster, Boise a booming technology cluster, and the Magic Valley a food industry cluster.
What sets Eastern Idaho apart? A growing research industry, with Idaho National Laboratory at its core.
Eastern Idaho’s professionals are highly specialized. In the Upper Snake River Valley, professional, scientific and technical service jobs are 91 percent more concentrated than anywhere in the U.S.
This level of industry concentration creates closer ties to unique supply chains and a more robust talent pool that is aided by 3 universities and a community college. The Idaho Technology Council’s 2018 Knowledge Report recently dubbed the eastern region as Idaho’s “Innovation Corridor.”
Take a drive down the newly named MK Simpson Boulevard in Idaho Falls and you will see that what was once a tractor-filled hayfield has been transformed into a high-tech energy park. In the fall, two new facilities open. The Cybercore Integration Center will support protection of our nation’s critical infrastructure. The Collaborative Computing Center will possess one of the Northwest’s fastest computing capabilities and be a major tool in resolving energy delivery and technology development challenges.
INL will lease these facilities from the state. This partnership is vital and part of a plan to educate and train Idahoans for the technology jobs of the future. The new facilities, and the remarkable capabilities housed within, will be available to Idaho’s universities and INL industry partners. Having INL researchers work side by side with faculty and students will grow and nurture talent and inspire creativity well into the future.
The educational benefits of these facilities is undeniable, and a major reason why legislators from every corner of Idaho supported state ownership. But let us not ignore the economic benefit created by the financing, construction, and operation of these facilities, as well as cost savings to Idaho’s universities.
Since 2012, Idaho universities have utilized 45 million core hours on INL supercomputers. Usage for just 2017 saved those universities approximately $800,000. Idaho universities have exceptional computing access through the Idaho Regional Optical Network no matter whether they are in Moscow, Boise, or Pocatello.
If this sounds exciting, keep reading. INL is building new analytical capabilities, gearing up for a new mission to Mars, expanding our transmission grid used for critical energy and security research, expanding a water security test bed, helping our industry partners build first-of-its-kind small modular reactors and microreactors, and leading research in wireless for programs like 5G.
INL has people and capabilities that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, to integrate the technology and energy systems needed to fuel the future.
But one thing is certain: keeping INL – and eastern Idaho’s growing research industry – strong requires a shared emphasis on education, training, and workforce development.
Current workforce demands are much more than what is available in Eastern Idaho, and will take a village bigger than Idaho.
A recent report underwritten by Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI) estimated that 12 small modular reactors envisioned for the INL site by a Utah-based public power agency will require up to 400 nuclear technicians and operators. Obviously, future nuclear reactors to be built in the U.S. must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws and regulations. This too requires a workforce with specific skills and training.
Construction, scheduled to begin in 2023, will require 3,000 new workers every year for four years to take the project to the finish line. Preparing for a supply chain, attracting contractors and finding a workforce are major challenges.
Growth at INL provides opportunities: for community colleges and universities to leverage access to INL resources and recruit more students and faculty; for qualified vendors, suppliers and contractors to deliver services to INL while attracting new customers; and for entrepreneurs to license what we created and make it available outside the lab. Additionally, there are countless expansion opportunities for those who house, feed and entertain employees and visitors.
Amy Lientz is the director of Stakeholder and Education Partnerships at Idaho National Laboratory. She has oversight of economic development, education partnership coordination, STEM education, community giving, governmental affairs, communications, and workforce development. She is the vice chair of the Idaho Technology Council, on the advisory board for Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, a member of Idaho Business for Education, a member to the Idaho Defense Alliance, on the University of Idaho Engineering Advisory Board, and the McClure Policy Center.