Kootenai County’s chances of getting Micron Semiconductor Inc. just got better.
The picture changed on Friday when Idaho’s state Board of Education killed plans for an independent engineering school at Boise State University.
With a new engineering school, Boise would have a better chance landing Micron’s expansion. The computer chip-making firm is the largest private employer in Boise.
But the board voted 5-3 to continue the University of Idaho’s monopoly in providing engineering education in Idaho.
The lack of a stand-alone engineering school in southern Idaho gives Kootenai County an edge over Boise, Nampa and Twin Falls in the contest for Micron’s expansion.
Several engineering programs would be available here. Established engineering programs operate at Gonzaga University and Washington State University’s Spokane campus. Also, UI has committed to expanding its North Idaho College extension campus if Micron comes to Post Falls.
Friday’s decision in Boise unquestionably strengthens the Kootenai County-Spokane County bid for Micron, said Bob Cooper of the Spokane Economic Development Council. Cooper works with Bob Potter of Coeur d’Alene’s Jobs Plus Inc. in the pitch for Micron.
Of the estimated 4,000 workers the Micron plant would employ, nearly 1,000 would have managerial and/or engineering responsibilities.
About half of the work force likely would live in Spokane County, Cooper said.
“In looking at what Micron was asking for from the sites, they were very explicit about the need for engineering training,” Cooper said. “I think this may tip things in our favor.”
Gonzaga University’s School of Engineering and Washington State University’s Spokane campus offer the majority of graduate engineering degrees that Micron engineers would likely need.
Gonzaga and WSU beam courses to companies such as Hewlett Packard via two-way video link. Both have the ability to teach courses on site.
UI would offer more courses, add faculty and eventually add full engineering degrees to its North Idaho College campus if Micron comes to Kootenai County, said Welldon Povey, an associate dean at the engineering school in Moscow.
Joe Parkinson, Micron co-founder and former chairman, told the education board Friday that its decision could lead to Micron leaving Boise and perhaps even the state. Parkinson later clarified that he was not speaking for the company.
But Steve Appleton, who succeeded Parkinson as Micron’s chairman and chief executive officer last fall, later confirming that.
“Access to engineering education could become more critical as Micron moves into the final evaluations on sites for its new complex,” he said.
Micron plans to choose six sites from its list of 13 in early February. Announcement of a winner is expected by the end of February. The company wants to break ground this spring for the assembly plant, which would double the company’s capacity to make memory chips.
If Micron chooses the site offered in Post Falls, Gonzaga is ready to grow with it, said Zai Yamayee, dean of the School of Engineering.
“Our long range plan shows we want to increase our enrollment of undergraduate students by 80 and our graduate students by about 20,” Yamayee said. The engineering school has about 380 graduate and undergraduate students now.
“If Micron needs specialized short courses for their engineers, we’re more than willing to do those too,” Yamayee said.
WSU’s engineering program is flexible enough to adapt to Micron’s needs, said Hal Runsey, associate professor of engineering management in Spokane. Runsey is one of two full-time engineering faculty at the campus. More professors can be moved up from the Pullman campus if demand for engineering programs rises, he said.
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Eric Torbenson Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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