Micron Technology Inc. Monday picked a site near Lehi, Utah, for a new $1.3 billion computer-chip plant.
The small community 25 miles south of Salt Lake City and 17 miles northwest of Provo was the winner of a six-month contest that ensued after Micron announced that it wanted to expand and would consider locations other than its Boise headquarters complex.
Lehi won, in part, because the community and the state of Utah offered tax increment financing and up to $25 million in roads and utilities. In exchange, the area gets 3,500 jobs and billions of dollars expected to be generated by construction of the plant.
But the large engineering programs at Brigham Young University and nearby University of Utah may have been the clincher.
“I think really the main selling points were that the universities here were very willing to cooperate,” said Utah County Commissioner Jerry Grover.
The Utah Legislature also added a sales tax exemption for replacing manufacturing equipment to one already on the books for purchasing new machinery.
The win by Utah was not surprising to Bob Potter of Coeur d’Alene’s Jobs Plus Inc. Economic recruiters from Coeur d’Alene and Spokane often find themselves in competition with Utah, which offers many of the same amenities as the Inland Northwest.
Utah was one of the finalists that lost to North Idaho when Harpers Inc. moved from California to Post Falls.
“They’re very competitive down there,” Potter said. “We got Harpers from them last time, so I guess you win some and you lose some.”
Kootenai County was one of 13 semifinalists for the Micron plant, and Potter said his package was identical if not better on some fronts than Utah’s.
“I still don’t know why we didn’t make the final cut,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed Monday in Omaha, Neb., and Oklahoma City, the two cities that were finalists along with Utah County.
Omaha officials were smarting from losing their third big recruiting contest in three years.
BMW chose South Carolina and Mercedes-Benz selected Alabama over Omaha for new automobile plants. While Nebraska officials called Micron’s decision disappointing, they said the state could benefit from the attention.
“Of course we’re disappointed, but that doesn’t mean we’re out of business,” state Economic Development Director Maxine Moul said. “We’ve learned a lot with projects like this one.”
Steve Appleton, Micron CEO, cited the Lehi area’s highly educated work force as a deciding factor. He noted that 94 percent of the local work force has a high school diploma while 35 percent has at least an undergraduate degree.
He also cited strong semiconductor research programs at the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.
University officials in Oklahoma defended their programs.
“They do have a strong program up there, there’s no doubt about that. But we can certainly provide very high-level support with research and development in this area,” said Allen Kelly of Oklahoma State University.
Oklahoma’s lack of a right-to-work law that prohibits making union membership a condition of employment may have also hurt its chances, said W. Andrew Burke, senior vice president of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.
Both Utah and Nebraska have right-to-work laws, as does Idaho. Attempts to pass such a law in Oklahoma failed this year.