Tech bloggers, product reviewers and journalists from around the nation typically converge on New York City or San Francisco when Hewlett-Packard invites them to preview a new line of printers. On Nov. 13, HP rolled out the red carpet for them in Boise instead.
HP made it hard for about a dozen reporters to say no to Idaho. They dangled enticements like free airline tickets, rooms at Hotel 43, welcome cocktails and a dinner at Chandler’s Steakhouse. For good measure, the tech company threw in a free shuttle ride aboard the red and green Boise Trolley to HP’s campus on Chinden Boulevard.
As a news writer (not to mention a Boise resident) I didn’t partake of the meals or the hotel, and I drove myself to the HP campus. Once there, I found myself in the lobby of Building 1, a place that immediately brought to mind the movie “A Clockwork Orange” with its modern white planters and canary-yellow couches and chairs. One by one, we shuffled into the “HP Enterprise Briefing Center” and took seats around a large wedge-shaped table.
A giant monitor flanked by two smaller screens dominated the front of the room. Demo printers and product displays occupied the sides. Plenty of coffee, soft drinks, fruit and other snacks were waiting in the back.
HP partners and corporate clients routinely see this room when they arrive on the Boise campus. But HP has been a little more opaque with reporters, at least the local media. Calls to the HP campus are often referred to a communications office in California, and sometimes they’re not returned at all.
On the Nov. 13 visit, execs highlighted the company’s “LaserJet Enterprise Solutions” product strategy and technology for reporters. This presentation included the company’s new lineup of multifunction printers that also scan, fax, copy, email and store documents to and from the “cloud,” corporate servers, or mobile devices like smartphones. Then, the curtain parted a bit.
HP has typically been vague about what exactly goes on at its Boise campus except to say the location houses its printing and imaging group and other employees. Product Manager Will Barnard provided more detail. He said the Boise campus has primary responsibility for HP’s LaserJet and other printers including their design, engineering, testing, and marketing.
Also handled from the Idaho site are two services operations. One provides “Managed Print Services” to large corporations. This unit helps them design and implement networks that print and electronically store documents. MPS contracts totaled $9 billion during the past five years. The other operation manages tech support for the U.S. Navy worldwide.
Reporters also got an extensive tour of HP Boise’s product testing and other research and development facilities. This part of the day took us through Willy Wonka-like radio frequency and audio test rooms and inside a cramped chamber that felt like a hot, humid day in Florida without the mosquitoes. Some low-ceilinged lab areas showed all of the facility’s 30 years of age.
Other parts of the campus felt like a visit to any large tech firm in Silicon Valley. Cubicles seemed to stretch for miles. There were comfortable common areas and conference rooms to spur group discussions and brain-storming. An onsite dentist’s office in a hallway connecting two buildings caught my eye.
The highlight of the visit for me was HP’s Digital Oasis and printer museum. Located at the center of the main building’s first floor, the area looks like the lobby of a “W” Hotel with tables and chairs but without lounge music and pastel lights. At the Oasis, full-time HP employees and retirees get to print photos of every size from workstations and kiosks. Reporters that came prepared with memory sticks of photo files could print out a high quality poster there.
On the other side of the Oasis is HP’s LaserJet museum. Printers of every size and age are displayed behind glass. The first laser printer, introduced in 1980, holds a prominent place near life-size cut-outs of co-founders David Packard and William Hewlett. Of course, there’s a small-scale model of the garage where the tech company was born.
After the event, Von Hansen, HP vice president and general manager of the Boise campus, said he thinks the company will bring more groups of reporters to Idaho. They did it this time because they were getting deep questions from tech writers about HP’s new product line. Hansen said they have already received requests from media in South America for a similar visit to Boise.
I hope the visits continue, because it’s important for the community to understand what type of work goes on there. These visits are also a great opportunity for those from outside Idaho to get a taste of what life is like here.
With the local technology industry hoping to attract more talent to the area, this type of exposure to one of the Treasure Valley’s largest employers can only be positive. Although the damp and chilly day prompted comments from thinner- skinned journalists about warmer climes at home, perhaps they’ll also write about the snow-capped mountains in the distance and remember HP gave them a glimpse of what’s possible in the Treasure Valley.
Scott Ki covers technology at Idaho Business Review.