A recently completed study for Idaho TechConnect and the Idaho Department of Commerce by Heike Mayer, assistant professor and acting director of the Urban Affairs and Planning program, Virginia Tech, National Capital Region found that Boise, Idaho has experienced a healthy high-tech economy during the last few years, despite the lack of a world-class research university in the area.

The study also found that most of the tech economy comes from small firms.

Mayer has been studying the emergence of second-tier high technology regions in the United States for a number of years. She has done a similar study in Portland, Ore., and is also working on reports for other cities including Kansas City, Mo.; Kansas City, Kan.; and Phoenix.

“The technology community in Boise, which is part of Idaho’s Treasure Valley in the southwest corner of the state, is highly specialized and very entrepreneurial,” explained Mayer. “Hewlett-Packard and Micron Technology are two leading high technology employers in the area and in many ways, function as surrogate universities, creating a skilled labor pool and innovations and fostering a number of dynamic and entrepreneurial startups.”

In conducting the study, Mayer used data gathered from an online survey of technology firms. She found that compared to other high-tech regions, Boise’s high-technology industry is rather small. The region’s 34,081 high-tech workers are employed by 1,335 firms, of which 77 percent employ less than 9 people. Only 3.4 percent employ more than 100 workers. The industry is also highly specialized in sectors such as semiconductor manufacturing, computer and electronic products, software publishing, and engineering services.

Mayer’s visualization, part of her research/data analysis, has been designed by Stuart Armstrong as a double-sided 24-by-36-inch poster. One side shows the high-tech firms in the Boise metropolitan region; the flip side of the poster focuses on the strength of the innovation economy statewide, showing the number of technology firms in each county. Vignettes of 12 companies from around the state – from Quest Aircraft in Sandpoint to International Isotopes in Idaho Falls – line the edges. A total of 3,849 technology companies are located in Idaho, employing more than 50,000 people. For information on how to obtain a copy of the poster, e-mail Krissa Wrigley or Julie Howard.

Mayer’s recommendation to Idaho’s state and local policy makers is to take every opportunity to understand and recognize the importance of knowledge-based industries because they are critical to the region’s future growth. “They need to support entrepreneurship, industry-university connections, workforce and skill development, talent creation, and the region’s quality of life.

“Boise already has the right prerequisites to succeed,” Mayer continued. “To take the region to the next level, policymakers need to make strategic investment in their universities; connect to and leverage industry [research and development]; and develop, attract, and retain talent.”

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