Micron Technology Inc. snubbed Kootenai County and the rest of the Pacific Northwest on Monday in favor of expanding in Utah, Oklahoma or Nebraska.
Surprising even its own paid siteselection consultant, the Boise-based computer-chip maker dropped Post Falls, Boise, the Tri-Cities and seven other locations as finalists for a proposed $1.3 billion expansion factory.
The decision means Kootenai County missed out on the chance to lure 3,000 to 4,000 jobs, an annual payroll of $200 million and property taxes of $32 million. It also means the county won’t have to find a way to absorb the population and traffic such a large plant would have brought.
“The Northwest sites just didn’t match up,” said Kipp Bedard, spokesman for Micron’s site-selection committee.
Micron, one of the largest companies in Idaho, cited access to higher education, water, roads and superior building sites in narrowing its potential locations to Oklahoma City; Omaha, Neb.; and Payson, Utah, near Provo. The expansion site may be chosen before the end of the month.
State and local officials blamed the loss on the Idaho Board of Education’s refusal last month to create an independent engineering school at Boise State University. Micron was so eager for the school it had offered $5 million in seed money to get it started.
“They’re sending a signal, telling Idaho that without a (southern Idaho) engineering school, they’re not going to stay,” said Bob Potter, president of Jobs Plus, a Coeur d’Alene-based business recruitment agency.
Potter and some other Northwest economic development officials believed Kootenai County was the best site in Idaho. It was vying against Boise, Nampa and Twin Falls.
Officials had created a consortium of Idaho and Washington colleges to meet Micron’s engineering requirements and help train employees. College officials met just hours before Micron’s decision Monday to pound out a curriculum they would use in training Micron employees.
The decision also caught Micron’s paid consultant off-guard.
“This is news to me,” said Bob Goforth, a South Carolina consultant who left Friday after a two-day visit to Post Falls and Spokane. “I haven’t even been to Omaha and Oklahoma City yet. I felt that Idaho would have one or two of the final sites, so I guess I’m a little surprised.”
Bedard, who doubles as vice president of investor relations for Micron, said the company’s decision was based in part on written and verbal recommendations that Goforth had delivered over the weekend.
But Goforth contradicted Bedard’s statements, lending credence to local officials’ suspicions that the company was miffed at Idaho officials over the engineering school issue.
Goforth said he hasn’t talked to Micron since the middle of last week and has made no recommendation.
He said Kootenai County scored high on his site-selection criteria compared with other sites.
While the Spokane and Kootenai county bid had more engineering education options than other Idaho entrants did, it could not offer a single stand-alone school with a variety of resources.
Omaha and Oklahoma City both have large state universities nearby. The Payson site benefits by having Brigham Young University, with a well-respected engineering school, just minutes to the north.
Surrounded by a high-tech corridor of software firms, Micron would feel at home in the Payson area, according to Paul Blanchard, director of development for the city.
Incentives also may have played a role.
Oklahoma was expected to offer free land and other incentives to lure Micron, trying to duplicate the same success it had in luring other large companies, according to former Pullman resident Gary Pence, now a business recruiter in Oklahoma City.
In Nebraska, the Legislature is considering two bills aimed at luring Micron by providing credits toward work force training and taxes.
Some wealthy connections also may have helped Omaha. Omaha billionaire Warren Buffett reportedly is helping recruit Micron, whose largest shareholder is fellow billionaire J.R. Simplot of Boise. Simplot and his companies control 22 percent of Micron stock.
Idaho’s charter prevents the use of economic incentives except at the local level. Post Falls residents last week rejected an initiative that would have required an election each time the city offers tax-increment financing to a company.
The vote was considered a coup in recruiting Micron, but some property owners worried that voters had given away their power to turn down unnecessary tax incentives and stop runaway growth. “People in Post Falls are probably better off without them (Micron),” said Ron Rankin, president of the Kootenai County Property Owners Association.
Idaho Secretary of Commerce Jim Hawkins was at a loss as to what had led Micron to its decision. Hawkins, a North Idaho native, sensed something was afoot when Micron canceled a planned tour of Spokane and Kootenai County last week.
However, he said the efforts to keep Micron in the state may position Idaho to land the next large corporate expansion.
“We had so many people working so hard on this in the state,” he said.
xxxx See also sidebar which appeared with this story under headline “Micron’s final three”