Dec 28 2008

Idaho Person of 2008: Steve Appleton

Published by at 12:34 pm under Idaho

Steve Appleton

Steve Appleton

On November 24, an article in the Idaho Statesman raised a question, an unthinkable question: Might Micron Technology move, in whole or in large part, from its home town of Boise?

The article offered concrete evidence for thinking it might: “Days after Micron announced that it would shut its flash-memory production line in Boise and end 1,500 more Treasure Valley jobs, Micron bought a stake in a Taiwanese manufacturer of dynamic random-access memory, or DRAM, Micron’s principal product. That move was praised by industry analysts, but it led some to conclude that Micron is moving production out of Idaho – and that a long-hoped-for, state-of-the-art fabrication plant might never be built in Boise.”

With thousands of employees at stake – still about 7,500 in the Boise area – the future of Micron is a very big deal to Idaho. But there’s more to it than just the payroll, significant as it is. It’s also the many spinoff businesses that rely on a partnership with Micron, and the people they employ. And more than the tax money and big community participation; Micron is the last of the really large publicly-held corporate giants (Idaho Power’s Idacorp may be next largest – and it is at eventual buyout risk), and a major moveout would have a whole string of effects. And all that would be big enough in normal times: In an economic down period like this . . . well, you can hardly blame a lot of people for not wanting to think about it.

Look around at the rest of the high-tech manufacturing world, though, and the question becomes apparent: Why is Micron still here? Already, much of its operations have shifted to lower-cost areas, but for how long?

We’re guessing many of the answers have to do with Steve Appleton.

Appleton is from Boise, has been with the company at its Boise headquarters since 1983, and CEO since 1994 – remarkable longevity. He’s a Boise guy, and he came in when Micron was very much a Boise operation, period, as opposed to a Boise-headquartered global business. For many years the Boise investor cadre, long led by agribusiness tycoon J.R. Simplot, was an anchor. But Micron is fully global now, to the point of merging and dealing intensively with many other global interests (and Appleton says that’s something likely to continue). From its perspective as a business, it could be located in any of many places. for Appleton, Boise is home. Very likely, he has a preference to keep the business there.

He seems strongly positioned. Prior to a recent shareholders meeting, there was considerable chatter about a possible shareholder revolt. None materialized. The core decisions seem likely to be Appleton’s.

He has options. Micron has seen big losses lately, but it also has substantial cash on hand – it is pressed, but it has room to maneuver.

Appleton’s moves determined the Idaho dynamic more than those of any other one person in 2008.

MENTIONS (whether honorable or not): Some of the others we considered . . .

Bill Sali and Walt Minnick. The biggest political shift in Idaho in 2008, and one of the two or three biggest in the last decade, was the takeover by Democrat Minnick of Republican Sali’s congressional seat. It was a lone shift, though: This one narrow decision aside, Idaho politics remained nearly static, even in a year of national political upheaval.

C.L. “Butch” Otter. The governor’s push on transportation, which appears to have been his main initiative this year, has gone through a series of phases, and remains highly active heading into 2009. But it remains a slow push.

Larry Craig. The departing senator was suggested by more people than anyone else, and had we run this feature last year he would have been hard to overlook. This year? For all the uproar of 2007, and his ongoing cultural icon status, he wound up his tenure in the Senate fairly quietly, voting and taking stands on issues much the same way he had for so many years before.

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