INL driving economic growth, impacting construction market

Chloe Baul//May 23, 2023

Sample Preparation Laboratory construction progress

INL driving economic growth, impacting construction market

Chloe Baul//May 23, 2023

With its cutting-edge research facilities and innovative projects, the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has become a key driver of the region’s economy. The INL’s activities in the field of nuclear energy and national security have not only made significant contributions, but have also had a continuous long-term impact on the construction market in Idaho.

Reactor Support Building at the Advanced Test Reactor Site

“I’d say in the last decade or so, there’s been a significant resurgence and the recognition of the importance of nuclear power in providing reliable baseload power for our country,” Brady Orchard, projects division director at the INL, said. “Nuclear still provides a significant amount of that baseload power, and that anticipated need is not going away. It’s increasing dramatically with the shift to electric vehicles and other electric demands as the country progresses.”

As the importance of nuclear power gains recognition, the INL is seeing an increase in investment directed towards strengthening its capabilities, he added.

“That includes recapitalization of our existing assets–making sure that our existing assets continue to function and perform as designed and our facilities, as well as investment in new capabilities at the INL with a large focus on advanced reactor demonstration activities, new reactor concepts,” Orchard said. “That includes a lot of integration and work with private industry on their new reactor concepts and testing of those concepts. And INL is the place where that’s going to happen.”

To support the research and development activities at the INL, significant investments have been made in infrastructure development. Plans for the construction of advanced research facilities, laboratories, and testing sites have increased the demand for construction companies and contractors in Eastern Idaho. 

Sample Preparation Laboratory construction progress

Through the Inflation Reduction Act, the laboratory was granted $150 million for construction projects, with Hope Morrow, INL’s resident labor economist, highlighting the positive impact it will have on the construction workforce economy through various means.

“We have our permanent construction workforce and our temporary construction workforce that we impact. In money that we spend to build new things or to do renovations–more often than not, we subcontract our projects out to the site. So we hire local and small businesses, sometimes larger contractors to do a variety of projects,” she said. “We have a very in depth system of contractors that help facilitate and build out at the site.”

The INL’s permanent construction workforce includes staff plumbers, electricians and laborers that focus on smaller projects and outside maintenance. According to Morrow, the INL experiences fluctuations in the number of construction contractors, ranging from 400 to 800 at any given time throughout the year. “We have this very large system of construction workforce at any given time.”

The INL’s influence on the construction market extends beyond its direct infrastructure projects. The demand for office spaces, manufacturing facilities, and housing for employees has spurred commercial and residential construction projects. Over the next five years, the INL is looking at just under 3,000 job openings, about half of which are just new growth, half of which are due to replacement. 

“As our permanent workforce grows, we’re bringing in new engineers and new technicians. Sometimes we bring in people from outside the region, which means their families move here, requiring more housing and more commercial properties,” Morrow added. “I think INL is a very significant contributor to the expansive economic impact of the state of Idaho, and the construction impact.”

As the laboratory continues to expand its research capabilities and attract new projects, the demand for construction services will persist. The laboratory’s ongoing long-term effect on the construction market is a testament to its role as a catalyst for economic development in the state of Idaho.

“The INL is a huge driver for the state’s economy. Lot’s of us from Eastern Idaho have connections to the lab, and it employs a lot of people. In fact, I think it’s the sixth largest employer in the state,” Wayne Hammon, CEO of the Idaho Associated General Contractors (AGC), said. “The Department of Energy and the nuclear research office are very important, and that federal appropriation is what makes it all happen.”