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Posts published in “Day: August 11, 2016”

Premier’s dilemma

mendiola

At a recent Idaho Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) meeting in Pocatello, Premier Technology Chief Business Officer and Co-Founder Douglas Sayer (pictured) testified that his Blackfoot-based design, engineering, manufacturing and construction management company is on the horns of a very challenging dilemma.

Since its start in 1996, Premier Technology has grown to employ about 300 highly skilled professionals, including engineers and machinists, at its cutting edge 210,000-square-foot fabrication plant conspicuously seen west of Blackfoot’s main Interstate 15 interchange.

Its welders are stringently trained to work with a variety of metals, ranging from stainless and carbon steel to exotic elements such as titanium.

Premier has done extensive sophisticated custom work for the Idaho National Laboratory and other U.S. Department of Energy contractors, but Sayer told LINE commissioners at Idaho State University that it’s a misconception to believe that private companies securing government contracts have grabbed brass rings.

He said it’s an uphill battle for relatively small businesses to get bank loans for such contracts as they struggle to make large capital investments. Only about half of Premier Technology’s business mix is related to the nuclear industry, Sayer noted.

“Food processing and mining allow us to participate on the nuclear side,” he said, mentioning that if it were up to his wife Shelly, Premier’s chief executive officer since 2013, the company would not be involved in the nuclear business due to its significant expenses and difficulty breaking even. Premier has heavily invested in research and development for new technologies.

Premier believes it has a moral obligation to maintain top quality levels of manufacturing to protect the environment and Idaho’s Snake River Plain aquifer, Sayer said, but pointed out companies in such countries as India are not held to the same standards or pay scales, making it more difficult to compete.

Competitors in Missouri and the United Kingdom see the economic advantages of developing Small Modular Reactors as the wave of the nuclear industry’s future and are aggressively pursuing the development of SMRs. NuScale Power has indicated it could start placing orders for SMR components as soon as 2019.

“We’re a little bit behind the eight ball if we want to get serious about it,” Sayer said, adding Premier Technology has imposed 60-hours-per-week mandatory shifts at its plant to keep up. “We’re short on human capital. … There’s a shortage of qualified talent in Idaho now.”

Unlike Chobani, which can tap the resources of the College of Southern Idaho, a community college in Twin Falls, for its yogurt plant employment needs, the nuclear industry’s requirements demand much higher training proficiencies. “There’s a difference between teaching and training,” Sayer said.

The Premier Technology executive urged LINE committee members to create a subcommittee to address the compelling need for trained, qualified personnel in the nuclear industry and initiate an effective strategy. The INL needs “top shelf talent” and is not a place for on-the-job training, Sayer stressed. “We’ve got to think outside the box.”

He also emphasized that Idaho ranks among the lowest states in terms of education investments. “We can’t wait any longer,” Sayer said, adding Premier Technology has considered acquiring oil and gas companies in Utah and Wyoming to secure their pipeline welding talent.

He also noted there is a large difference between nuclear performance-based welding requirements and those of the petroleum industry. Many if not most welding instructors in ISU’s College of Technology hail from the oil and gas industry. Idaho has not addressed the dire need for nuclear-qualified welders, machinists and crafts, he said, mentioning he has been working with ISU for 15 years.

“Five years ago I could operate every piece of equipment in our facility. Today I cannot operate any of them. That’s how far manufacturing has advanced,” Sayer said.

Premier Technology offered someone in Carlsbad, N.M., a quarter million dollar salary, a $50,000 relocation stipend and six weeks vacation to move to Idaho, but the individual turned it down because he was making the equivalent amount working part time, Sayer said. “And Carlsbad is not the prettiest place on earth,” he remarked.

Trump 90: Easily baited

trump

The presidency isn't the only job where a certain cool and steadiness is necessary. A lawyer in a trial, a surgeon in the operating room - at such times, such people simply cannot allow themselves to be rattled or baited. It happens, unfortunately, and when it does lives can be ruined or ended. But capable professionals strive hard to keep a clear head, to do what's necessary and not be thrown into doing what isn't - or what might be harmful.

The presidency can be the same, on a far more vast scale. One of the most praised attributes of Barack Obama has been his cool, his resistance to being rattled, to do what he thinks he needs to do in his own time and his own way. Rarely is he provoked into a sharp response.

Donald Trump is easily baited.

On the last day of the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton said during her acceptance speech that Trump should not be trusted with the nuclear arsenal because he is "a man who can be baited with a tweet." Just that had after all happened already during the campaign, as both sides well knew. And you would expect that with that near-warning - an implicit threat that we'll be trying to bait you and waiting for your reaction - that Trump would have been cautious enough to avoid fulfilling the prediction. Surely most candidates would have; it would have been an easy enough test for him to crow later about passing.

But the Clinton people knew their opponent. They knew he couldn't help but respond to a smackdown. And just as predicted, as if they could see the future - or at east predict Trump perfectly - he took fresh bait the very next day.

Shortly before Clinton's speech one of the DNC orators was former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a fellow NYC billionaire but no fan of Trump. He took some pungent shots at Trump, and Trump could not help but tweet the next day, July 28: "'Little' Michael Bloomberg, who never had the guts to run for president, knows nothing about me. His last term as Mayor was a disaster!"

What if anything useful Trump thereby accomplished for his campaign is unknown. But what he revealed about himself was plain enough. As writer James Fallows put it on the Atlantic: "Think of the strategic outlook you are seeing demonstrated on Trump’s side. On national TV, a woman has said that it is easy to get under his skin — after a much richer real billionaire has made fun of him with, 'I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one.' And Trump’s response is … to take the bait and show that it has gotten under this skin."

Only hours later, he did it again in a much more explosive way, snarking at the Gold Star Khan family, which lost a (Muslim) Army captain in action on the far side of the globe. Republican Matt Mackowiak commented: “Trump is proving that Hillary’s criticism of his temperament has merit. He can’t even pretend when lashing out was predicted. Took bait.”

He would be the most easily manipulated president in the history of the United States. - rs