Developing Bannock

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
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An Idaho State University vice president recently submitted proposals to Idaho Commerce Director Jeff Sayer to remove constitutional barriers impeding research and economic development at the state’s universities, which he says put them and the Gem State at a competitive disadvantage.

When he addressed the Bannock Development Corp.’s June 18 annual investor reception at Allstate’s new customer service center in Chubbuck, Dr. Howard Grimes, ISU vice president of research and economic development, mentioned he had given Sayer the proposals.

Grimes has overseen ISU’s new 250,000-square-foot Research and Innovation in Science and Engineering (RISE) Complex on Alvin Ricken Drive since November. He leads initiatives in biomedical and renewable energy research, and nano-material development for innovative sensor design, as well as environmental and geoscience networks.

He predicted the RISE Complex will dramatically change Southeast Idaho the next 15 to 20 years. “My vision is it will remain somewhat empty during its entire life span,” Grimes said, explaining new businesses will need space to operate. He expects it will be up to 80 percent full.

Grimes said he is talking with two startup companies now, and an established company is at the point it will need to do advanced manufacturing on a commercial scale. He mentioned he also is negotiating with a “very, very well-known multinational global company” whose annual net revenue exceeds $2 million.

“Six months into it, we’ve got multiple things on the burner,” he said, adding he recently was notified the National Science Foundation was awarding ISU a $5 million grant. “That is not easy to accomplish.” He expects another large grant to be announced in a matter of weeks.

The NSF also has awarded a five-year $20 million grant to Idaho universities, including ISU, to study how society and landscapes are interconnected.

Virtually every state within the past 10 years has radically altered constitutional statutes and changed policies to “incentivize” universities so they can do innovative research and economic development. “We have not done that in Idaho,” Grimes said. “Significant things need to change.”

States like Texas, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Colorado and Utah are making major advancements in developing research universities, he noted, citing Utah State University’s 30 business startups as an example. States up and down the East and West Coasts also are well ahead of Idaho in this regard.

“Paradigm shifts need to happen in the state of Idaho for all of it to be successful,” Grimes said, emphasizing there has been a fundamental shift in the federal government’s approach to funding research. “The private sector is going to have to lead the brigade forward.”

A former Washington State University graduate school dean and research vice president, Grimes championed WSU’s largest grant funding growth in the university’s history — 85 percent since Fiscal 2008. He also directed WSU’s Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach.

Grimes said universities started morphing into research and economic development five to six years ago. They have been forming teams of scientists to advance their work with private sector partners and secure grants, adopting an entirely different strategy of accelerating “lab bench to market” innovations, which previously took 20 years to complete.

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Dr. Howard Grimes, left, ISU vice president of research and economic development, converses with Tim Forhan, a Sanctuary Wealth Management partner, at a Bannock Development Corp. meeting. (photo/Mark Mendiola)

 

Influences disrupting higher education include decreases in state funding, widespread availability of Internet courses and the emergence of new education models lavishly funded by governments around the world, Grimes said.

He stressed that the contribution education makes to work force development and its incredible impact on economic development cannot be overestimated. He said it is a myth to believe most students leave the state where they have been educated.

Universities, which are “engines of innovation,” can be good at commercializing their research and collaborating with the private sector to attract new industries or they can be horrible at it, Grimes said, noting he is the “single point of contact” at ISU for such initiatives.

“That makes it happen lots faster. The reason is I know how to do it and a lot don’t,” he said, cautioning that some faculty members can make commitments that simply are not legal or practical.

Before Grimes spoke, Bannock Development Chairman Andy Akers, who owns D&S Electrical Supply Co., noted that he, Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad and BDC Executive Director John Regetz contacted 10 companies in California on a recent visit. Officials with two of those companies since have visited Pocatello.

“Those people are aching to get out of there,” Akers said of California business owners, noting that Regetz also attended trade shows that created a few leads. Those California businesses contacted represent high tech, medical products, transportation and distribution sectors.

Akers praised Mark Lupo of Idaho Power for securing two grants under the utility’s Partnering for Economic Development program — $3,500 to help fund the recent California visit and $5,000 for regional business expansion development. The California trip cost about $10,000. Bannock Development operates on a $270,000 budget.

Akers also noted that the Holiday Inn Express & Suites is constructing a new motel near Interstate 15 and ATCO is hiring 50 more workers at its Gateway West Industrial Center module housing plant.

It also was pointed out that Allstate is adding more than 500 jobs to its customer service center; ON Semiconductor has invested $37 million into its Pocatello plant the past three years; Petersen Inc., which employs 60 at its airport manufacturing plant, earned a Boeing supplier of the year award; Herberger’s employs 100 at its new Pine Ridge Mall retail store; WinCo has expanded its employment to 210 at its new grocery store, and Idaho Central Credit Union was voted one of the best places to work in the state.

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