INL and BSU work together to boost Butte County

May 9th, 2017 | By | Category: Featured
Submitted photo The Experimental Breeder Reactor-I Museum at the Idaho National Laboratory near Arco is one of the tourist attractions that will be featured on a new Butte County website being constructed as a result of a partnership between INL and Boise State University.

Submitted photo
The Experimental Breeder Reactor-I Museum at the Idaho National Laboratory near Arco is one of the tourist attractions that will be featured on a new Butte County website being constructed as a result of a partnership between INL and Boise State University.

By Corey Taule
Idaho National Laboratory

Spend time in Idaho’s Butte County and you come to understand something. These folks prefer to do for themselves. Give them tools and they will build.

That’s what a partnership between Idaho National Laboratory and Boise State University intends to accomplish.

INL contractor Battelle Energy Alliance annually awards thousands of dollars in technology-based economic development grants throughout Idaho. Recently, INL gave $17,500 to help BSU’s Idaho Policy Institute implement three projects in Butte County.

When the grant money is gone and the academics are back in Boise, folks in Butte County will have more of the skills and tools they need to prosper.

“That’s what I really like about this project,” said Amy Lientz, INL’s director of partnerships, engagement and technology deployment. “It promotes economic development, entrepreneurship and innovation in a way that fits the people in Butte County and will continue to serve them for many years.”

Project No. 1

A major challenge for small communities is supporting existing businesses and helping create an atmosphere in which new companies can not only survive, but thrive.

This spring, BSU’s director of economic development, Cece Gassner, will travel to Arco and teach entrepreneurial and leadership skills to local business owners and folks who would follow in their footsteps.

Monica Hampton, Butte County’s economic development director, said this will not be a one-time event.

“They’ll train me, and then I can continue that education,” she said.

Project No. 2

Imagine you live outside Idaho, and are looking forward to visiting Yellowstone National Park, Craters of the Moon and, if you are among the 19 percent of Americans who receive electricity from a nuclear power plant, INL’s Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 Museum near Arco.

You may want to know more about the communities between EBR-1 and Craters of the Moon. Butte County, however, doesn’t have its own website to direct visitors to motels, restaurants or the county’s many ATV trails, hiking at Big Southern Butte and mountain climbing at Diamond Peak.

That will soon change.

BSU’s technical staff is building a website for the county. The goal, Hampton said, is not only to offer potential visitors a place from which to begin, but also to market existing businesses and encourage startups.

Project No. 3

Somebody starts a new business. An interested customer finds it on the new website and decides the product is worth driving to Arco. What do you want them to see when they pull into town? A beautification effort that showcases the community’s history and unique relationship to atomic energy.

The best part? Local artists will drive the project.

“The more we talked, the more we thought the best way to get community support and buy-in to this effort was to find somebody local to do the art piece,” said Greg Hill, director of BSU’s Idaho Policy Institute.

Hampton said this project isn’t just about drawing tourists. Too often, in striving for bigger and better, we forget about the here and now — those who have for generations called the Lost River Valley home.

“This is a good place to live,” Hampton said. “Not only is it scenic, we have wonderful people who live here and contribute to our community. We want to make the good even better, not only for visitors, but ourselves.”

Reasons for doing

Battelle Energy Alliance is an Ohio-based nonprofit formed to improve the world through scientific achievement and the accumulation of knowledge.

Butte County is not the only place in Idaho benefiting from BEA technology-based economic development grants this year. Projects are taking place in the Wood River Valley, Clearwater Basin and Panhandle.

By engaging directly in communities such as Arco, Orofino, Ketchum and Coeur d’ Alene, INL increases its visibility and is able to connect economic development efforts to INL’s mission areas.

“We work hard to make sure every dollar we give makes a difference,” said Stephanie Cook, INL’s program manager for economic and workforce development.

Boise State University is one of the nation’s finest institutions of higher learning, dedicated to helping all Idahoans improve their lives. That’s why Hill and Gassner will jump on Interstate 84, make a right at Mountain Home and follow State Highway 20 until they reach Arco.

“The upside for Boise State is it builds relationships and promotes technical assistance in this community,” Hill said. “That INL is willing to work with us to do this is incredible. Hopefully this relationship will continue.”

As for Butte County and the 2,622 people who call it home, results will be measured in how they wield their new tools. There can be no doubt that, as Butte County celebrates its centennial — 100 years of living outside the box — its citizens would have it no other way.

“This is a place where results matter,” Hampton said, “and we plan to make the most of this opportunity.”

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