Plans for a new University of Idaho research campus at Post Falls won approval Thursday from the state Board of Education.
Post Falls Mayor Gus Johnson said that for his city, the project means “one word: jobs.”
“We’ve lost so many. We’re going to gain now,” Johnson said after the board’s unanimous vote.
“We’re delighted,” added Kootenai County Commissioner Dick Compton. “I think this is a bold move.”
Robert Hoover, University of Idaho president, said the Riverbend Research & Training Park could be up and running within 18 months. The park will include university programs conducting research and offering graduate degrees, along with private companies that can work with the research programs.
Defense contractor Lockheed - the main company operating the Idaho National Environmental and Engineering Laboratory in the southeastern part of the state - is “actively considering a site in the project,” Hoover told the board.
Jim Hawkins, the former Idaho Commerce Department director who has served as a special consultant to the project, said an unnamed Fortune 500 company also is interested, along with several other research companies.
Bob Potter, of Kootenai County business recruiter Jobs Plus, said the park will have an advantage over other university research parks because it also will include North Idaho College’s Workforce Training Center and NIC’s vocational training programs.
“It’s not just a research center - it’s a training center,” Potter said. “All that’s right in that complex.”
A gift of 28 acres from the Jacklin Land Co. is making the park possible. The University of Idaho Foundation accepted the gift and plans to use the land as collateral to begin building the facility. It will be located near the Factory Outlets, where the Riverbend Commerce Park already houses 13 manufacturing or distribution businesses.
Pat Leffel, commerce park manager for Jacklin, said, “We’re thrilled. It’s been a long time - our discussions started in August of ‘95.”
“This is going to provide, hopefully, the shot in the arm for Kootenai County economic development,” Leffel said.
Leffel dismissed news reports about a competitor, Alan Golub of Hayden Lake, Idaho, who had offered the university an alternate site at his Electronic Packaging Associates business.
“I guess location is the key,” Leffel said. “He has a nice facility, but I think our location - right off the interstate, right on the border, right on the river - was key.”
Golub said he decided to revive his offer after an unnamed UI professor expressed concern about reports that Jacklin threatened to pull its financial support from Washington State University unless the university repudiated a controversial study. The WSU study suggested that the public health benefits of eliminating grass field burning outweigh costs to growers.
Hoover said, “That’s the kind of thing you live with in an academic environment. Presidents have to protect academic freedom.”
He recalled a study he did earlier in his career that aroused the ire of a major university donor who was in the cement business. The university didn’t back off from its research results, he said.
Entering into a partnership with businesses, like the Riverbend project, won’t change the university’s approach to such issues, Hoover said. Universities always have to protect the integrity of their research while working with their partners or donors.
“Institutions do that all the time - it’s not always easy.” , DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.