Modern manufacturing is about technology and innovation, and for the US state of Idaho that means advanced manufacturing for companies involved in anything from aeroplane wing tips to batteries to food.
The chips manufactured by Micron Technologies, headquartered in Boise, for example, are used in cars. “A lot of companies in the state make things for other brands,” says Jan Rogers, CEO of regional economic development for Eastern Idaho.
Helping lead the state in innovation is the Idaho National Lab. “It’s our hidden gem and used by companies from all over the world,” says Megan Ronk, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce. “Every car manufacturer in the US, including Tesla, is checking their batteries at the lab.”
Technology in the fields
Idaho representatives attending this year’s SelectUSA conference in Washington, DC, in June highlighted how advanced technology is used across many industries. Examples include drone technology and smart tractors operated by an iPad for use in agriculture, one of the state’s key sectors.
“We have more than 11 million acres [4.45 million hectares] in production in Idaho, and there’s not one single acre that does not have technology applied to it,” says Ms Rogers.
Advanced technology, coupled with Idaho’s fertile soil, makes it possible for the state not only to grow high-quality food, but to become a powerhouse for food processing. Clif Bar, Amy’s Kitchen and Chobani all have manufacturing operations there.
“We are number one in malt barley in the US,” says Idaho governor Butch Otter. GrainCorp, a malting company from Australia, recently invested $80m in expanding malt production capacity at its facility in Pocatello. Other malting companies with a presence in the state include Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Mexico’s Grupo Modelo, now owned by Cargill.
“When GrainCorp’s expansion is completed next year, there will be no place in the world that has more malting capacity than Idaho,” says Mr Otter.
Helping GrainCorp expand is Idaho’s Tax Reinvestment Initiative (TRI), which is available to a broad range of industries, including aerospace, agriculture, food processing and hi-tech. It is open both to Idaho businesses looking to expand and businesses new to Idaho. Under TRI, companies are eligible for tax credits of up to 30% on income, payroll and sales taxes for up to 15 years.
Supporting additional innovation is Mr Otter’s Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM), a grant programme that funds commercialisation research. Entrepreneurs and three Idaho public research universities (University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Boise State University) work together to create new products.
“IGEM has been going on for two years with great success,” says Idaho state senator Kelly Anthon. “It has seen a number of technology projects that tie into agriculture.”
One of them, BioCement Technologies, used IGEM funding to develop a product to control soil erosion via self repairing cement. “We maximise every opportunity that agriculture presents,” says Mr Anthon. “That means creating, planting and harvesting the seed, processing the food, and utilising our research centres so that we become the innovator and researcher when it comes to food production.”
Mr Otter adds: “As a result, we have the most hi-tech farmers in the world.”