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HP Boise offers media peek at local startup culture

Scott KiFor the second year in a row, Hewlett-Packard executives invited about a dozen reporters and bloggers to Boise to learn about their products and services, and get a sample of life in Idaho. These journalists will leave with favorable impressions of Boise and the Treasure Valley, but area leaders still have a long way to go in their quest to attracted talented workers and entrepreneurs.

Writers came from Oregon and as far away as the Dominican Republic, the New York/New Jersey area and Chicago. Several journalists who had never been to Idaho before flew in from Canada.

Andy Baryer, of Vancouver, and Candice So, of Toronto, said their preconceived notions of Idaho revolved around potatoes and Boise State University’s football team. So, a reporter for IT World Canada, remarked that the potatoes lived up to their hype, but she wasn’t aware of Boise and the Treasure Valley’s push to attract technology workers and startup companies.

Baryer, host and producer of the television and radio show Get Connected, said Boise has an appeal that reminds him of a small town in British Columbia also surrounded by foothills: “If I just woke up (in Boise) and looked around, I would feel that I was in Kamloops.”

These journalists spent a couple of days at HP’s Boise campus to get in-depth presentations about the company’s printing and imaging technology. The format was similar to the event last year, when writers spoke with company managers and product specialists about HP’s latest innovations, got their hands dirty on new products, and toured campus facilities. Highlights of that visit included peeks into different quality-testing labs, a wander around a small museum of HP printers and access to a lounge where employees can create poster-size prints of their favorite photos.

This year, aside from an international audience of journalists, the event was expanded to nearly two days and included a little local flavor from an Idaho small business and a statewide tech organization.

The owner of City Peanut Shop in downtown Boise, Dan Balluff, came in with product samples and a testimonial on how he uses HP technology in his store. Balluff, who worked at HP for 17 years, chucked the corporate life to fulfill a personal dream by opening up his nut shop in 2009. His small business occupies a prominent piece of downtown Boise and provides jobs for seven Idahoans.

Later that morning, Rick Ritter, CEO of Idaho TechConnect, offered the second HP product testimonial from a local organization. As part of his presentation, Ritter shined a light on the startup companies that reside at the WaterCooler, a local business incubator or tech accelerator. He broke the news to many of the journalists in attendance, like So and Baryer, that Boise startups were working on a wide range of innovations, from lightweight cycling equipment to software that analyzes book content.

HP executives made a great decision to add Balluff and Ritter to the agenda. Yes, they promoted HP products and technology, but they also promoted Boise and its startup culture to journalists who have the power to spread the word beyond Idaho.

Television and radio host Baryer intends to talk about his visit and his favorable impression of the HP campus and Boise on his show in Vancouver. IT reporter So also leaves with a positive opinion of Boise, but she, like many 20-somethings, wants to live in a big city.

Boise and the Treasure Valley face an uphill battle to attract young, talented people like So who would rather make their mark in a big city and soak up what those cities offer. But I give credit to HP Boise for opening its doors once again to the media and for doing its part to reach out to those who can shape opinions in the tech community outside Idaho. Let’s hope these types of events become a regular occurrence.

Scott Ki is a Boise-based writer who dabbles in helping startup companies when he’s not mountain biking. He is also a former staff writer for the Idaho Business Review.

About Scott Ki