The College of Eastern Idaho (CEI) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL), both based in Idaho Falls, are partnering to help build Future Tech, a planned 88,000-square-foot building intended to support careers in cybersecurity, energy and agricultural technology — including at INL.
In addition to Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA), the company that manages and operates INL, pledging $1 million toward construction, the two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that lets INL provide training, mentorship and guest lecturer opportunities.
“We’re trying to be a better partner,” said Hope Morrow, lead over workforce development and a labor economist for INL. “We recognize that there are a lot of challenges higher education faces adapting to industry needs.”
Developing the pipeline
INL has had a relationship with Shoshone–Bannock Junior/Senior High School for the past two years, and in that time started thinking about expanding the pipeline. “We were already engaged with CEI,” Morrow said. “We became more engaged — where do they want to be going, and how can we help them do that.”
The MOU, which was signed on April 20, helps lay out what the priorities are, Morrow said.
“We’re being able to share resources, on a basis of developing curriculum, sharing our knowledge, sending folks to CEI to teach classes, facilitate discussions and have speakerships,” Morrow said. “It’s much easier to wrap it up in an MOU so everyone is on the same page, so we can move forward on those activities.”
For example, INL is developing an internal caucus of its professionals who want to engage, while CEI is caucusing priorities on its side, Morrow said.
Such a partnership between one of the 15 national laboratories and a two-year community college is unique, said Amanda Logan, CEI’s executive liaison.
After the MOU signing came the second part of the ceremony: the check pledge of $1 million over five years. In return, some facilities in the building, such as the cybersecurity lab or computer lab, may be named after BEA/INL, Morrow said.
This was not INL’s first involvement with the Future Tech building, Morrow said. “We had conversations between INL, other industry partners, CEI and the architect before the renderings were released,” she said. “We’ve been in this part of the discussion for a long time.”
While BEA has made other donations across the nation before, “in my three years at the lab, it’s the largest donation I know of,” Morrow said.
The future of Future Tech
Construction on Future Tech is a little bit behind — when it was announced last fall, groundbreaking was supposed to be in May or June of this year — but it’s supposed to start by the end of this year, said Rick Aman, president of CEI. The institution recently held the “95% review” of the plan. That said, there’s not much in the way of changes since last fall, other than “value engineering,” or dropping some cosmetic features in the interest of saving money, he said.
At this point, the final hurdle is raising the money to pay for it. Due to inflation, the budget has crept up from $40 million originally to $43 million now, but while CEI had raised just $16 million last fall, it has now raised $34 million, with just $9 million left to go, Aman said.
“We’ve had wonderful participation from the state,” with two separate pledges of $10 million and $3 million from Gov. Brad Little and the Idaho Legislature, Aman said. At this point, the institution is reaching out to business and industry — which is where the BEA pledge came in — and has received two or three $100,000 pledges just in the past week, Logan said.
In addition, CEI is writing applications for both state and federal grants. “There’s some really good opportunities coming up in October and November,” Logan said. “By the end of the year, we should have the funds actually in hand.”