Annual Vision Idaho event underscores R&D, innovative culture in Idaho 

Alx Stevens//February 2, 2023

Annual Vision Idaho event underscores R&D, innovative culture in Idaho 

Alx Stevens//February 2, 2023

“It’s a key pivot point for us;” “We are doing extraordinary things;” and “There is a fantastic opportunity…” were just a few phrases used to describe the state’s technology sector at Idaho Technology Council’s Vision Idaho event.  

Guest speakers, industry stakeholders and interested community members gathered virtually Jan. 19 for two hours to hear of local successes in the sector and a look ahead at the industry in Idaho. Speakers underscored the need to support research and development (R&D) in Idaho for the industry to move forward and to continue having such success stories and a positive outlook. A video of the event is available online.

Jay Larsen, Idaho Technology Council CEO, president and founder, provides remarks during Vision Idaho’s annual event Jan. 19. Screenshot by Alx Stevens

“This year’s focus on research and development demonstrated how integral it is to innovation and economic growth,” Carmen Achabal, IGEM program manager with the Idaho Department of Commerce, said following the event. “Having both industry and Idaho’s public research universities share their research initiatives and resources further exemplifies the importance of R&D.” 

R&D in Idaho universities   

Martin Blair, vice president of research at Idaho State University (ISU), began the discussion by highlighting the outlook for research at ISU, in Idaho and even into the region. 

In short, it’s very bright, with many opportunities.  

ISU touts 150 researchers across five campuses, and research is driven by the goal of “expanding knowledge and making discoveries that positively impact the quality of life,” as Blair put it. This past year, the university worked with $30 million in research awards. 

“Now that may be small in comparison to the other research universities here in our state, but ISU is exceeding that number this year and we are on track to continue to exceed that number,” Blair said. 

Blair also said he and his colleagues from the other universities “have been talking about ways in which we can make Idaho a research destination; a place where people can come and want to stay; where they can share their ideas; where they can grow their businesses.” 

“We’ve got some great examples of that already,” he added. 

Nancy Glenn, vice president of research and economic development at Boise State University (BSU), emphasized that “universities are the lifeblood of the basis of Idaho, and providing that workforce and technology and innovation across Idaho.” 

For instance, Glenn shared that BSU’s contribution to the economy is about $2 billion, and about 60% of the university’s 26,000 students stay in Treasure Valley five years post-graduation. 

And this past year, BSU hit a record of $68 million in research-related awards. 

“(Much) of that was in conjunction with partners…as part of this growth and research, we’re really trying to develop new industry- and community-friendly models to bring into campus and to bring our faculty and students outside of campus to the state,” Glenn said. 

Archibald Harner, assistant vice president research administrator at the University of Idaho (U of I), closed the university-focused portion of the event by speaking to the indirect and direct impacts U of I, and other universities, have on the state of Idaho. 

U of I, on average, has expended $110 million or more per year on research. 

“What that really means,” Harner said, “is we take Idaho resources and then our faculty here will propose research to the federal government, to state agencies, to industry, and seek sponsorships. We will take Idaho resources and augment those with resources…and the hope is that they will produce the dividends. 

Those could be exposure to the research process for students, he continued, or exposure to some industries they otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to; and another dividend could be the inventions themselves. 

And, to build on previous comments of universities being the lifeblood of the state, Harner said that comment is correct. 

“We’re teaching people to be innovators,” he said. “We’re taking those ideas (and) hopefully turning them into commercial success, which leads to reinvestment…into further research that benefits the state of Idaho.” 

Dave Kaplan speaks during the Idaho Technology Council’s Vision Idaho event on Jan. 19. Screenshot by Chloe Baul

Micron developments 

Having been in the semiconductor industry for nearly 35 years, Dave Kaplan, senior director of global IP strategy at Micron Technology, said there has never been a more exciting time to be part of the semiconductor industry than right now.  

Micron will be investing $15 billion into a 600,000-square-foot facility. This facility is also known as a fab, or fabrication facility, where manufacturers fabricate their semiconductor chips. The company will be hiring around 1,000 workers to operate this facility, which will generate an additional 70,000 jobs in Idaho, Kaplan added. 

“This facility will be the most technologically advanced facility that the world has ever seen,” Kaplan said. “You’ll be able to put 10 football fields inside this building. I’m not talking about office space — this mostly the manufacturing floor and the ceiling of this manufacturing floor.” 

An extreme ultraviolet scanner is one piece of equipment, among many others, that will be installed in the facility. According to Kaplan, these scanners produce a special type of light needed to create Micron chips.  

“Normal light is actually too thick to print the fine detail of our circuits. The wavelengths are too wide, we’ve outgrown it,” he said. “We need photons with smaller wavelengths. And these are photons that don’t even exist on this planet — they don’t exist in nature; we have to create them.” 

The addition of these scanners is the reason for the vast size of the facility and its ceilings, as they weigh over 200 tons, which is about the size of a small apartment, Kaplan added.  

“To get just one of these machines to Boise, it’s going to take three 747 jumbo cargo jets, 40 freight containers and 20 trucks,” he said. “This machine has over 100,000 parts sourced from over 8,000 different suppliers.” 

Kaplan mentioned that the third-largest export from the U.S. is semiconductors, with nearly 50% of the worldwide market share. The U.S. currently has the largest share of the global semiconductor design market, after oil and airplanes.  

“One might suggest that the difference here is that US semiconductor companies reinvest a greater percentage of their revenues back into R&D than the semiconductor companies of any other country,” he said. “The amount that U.S. semiconductor companies invest in R&D as a percentage of our sales — it’s not only more than any other country, it’s more than any other industry.” 

Kaplan said he believes it’s imperative that this virtuous cycle of semiconductor investment and semiconductor sales continue. 

“Our future, our health or our welfare, our defense, it’s all being built on the foundation of semiconductors,” Kaplan said. “AI and machine learning, telecommunications, DNA sequencing, edge computing…it’s all built on semiconductor technology, Micron technology. And that foundation right now is uniquely U.S.-based, and it needs to stay that way. It needs to be protected.” 

Kaplan also spoke to the relationship between R&D and patents. 

“We invest a massive amount of money in R&D,” he said. “And we’re fortunate enough to have a world-class, world-renowned patent to ensure that that these technologies that are being developed by our brilliant engineers and our brilliant scientists are captured in our patent applications. Micron’s not only a technology leader, we are a patent leader.” 

Following the event, Achabal commented on the U.S. semiconductor industry reinvesting a greater percentage of its revenue back into R&D: “Reinvestments like this are imperative to the continuous cycle of innovation.”    

Culture and Innovation  

“Are you thinking like it’s 2020, or are you stuck in the ‘70s?”

Jason Stolworthy, director of technology development for Idaho National Laboratory, shares research he and a team of other researchers did around culture and innovation. Screenshot by Alx Stevens

Jason Stolworthy, director of technology development for Idaho National Laboratory, posed that question around highlighting the significance of what can come out of innovation. Society’s appreciation for innovation has increased over the years, he said, and 27% of job growth comes from intellectual property and 38% of the U.S. gross domestic product comes out of intellectual property. 

Those facts help underscore the importance of having a culture that supports innovation. 

Stolworthy shared how culture impacts performance and motivation. Research that Stolworthy was a part of showed that performance and the amount of innovation, commercial deployments, partnerships with industry, etc., correlated directly. 

“And even more interesting is culture scores,” Stolworthy said. “Culture does impact performance.” 

What factors correlate with performance and innovation? 

Stolworthy said his teams research found the top factors to be: 

  • The degree to which leadership encourages innovation 
  • The degree to which researchers can recognize the value of their intellectual property 
  • The degree to which processes are effective at capturing and securing intellectual property  

Stolworthy also said that his team’s research showed that if performance culture is improved by one point, on a 100-point scale, innovation, commercial developments, partnerships and publications can increase “by a whopping 30%.” 

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” Stolworthy said, quoting management guru Peter Drucker. “When you get culture right, everything else falls into place.” 

— Reporter Chloe Baul contributed to this article.