Gov. Butch Otter has been criticized as being cool to Idaho’s tech sector, instead favoring old-school businesses like ag, lumber and mining, even as those make up a dwindling part of the state’s economy.
Otter possibly drove a spike through the heart of those assertions – literally – by pounding a spike into a Western Ada County field to symbolically kick off a visionary plan to make a Silicon Valley-style development. ESTech ( Eagle Star Technology Corridor) would be a business park on nearly 80,000 acres of land that would house a variety of technological companies and be a local effort by government in both Eagle and Star. A group of businesses seeking to make Idaho a destination for tech industries hatched the idea and Otter has signed on in support.
Otter said there is money in the Department of Commerce to help pay for infrastructure like water and sewage, which is also good to hear. There are several obstacles, however. Idaho Power has trouble providing much new electricity and there will be transportation issues to work out as well. Given the current state of the credit markets, financing will be hard to come by. If the governor is too far ahead of the Legislature on this issue, which is very likely, he might face some opposition; it isn’t clear to me, however, how much support he would need from the Legislature.
From an urban planning perspective, it would be better to use the many vacant commercial properties in the area, but that may not be possible due to the need to concentrate the industry.
The vision would also diversify Idaho’s technology industry, which has been heavy on manufacturing and lighter on software development. But with Micron and HP shedding jobs, diversification is essential.