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INL makes huge impact on employment and economic growth

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - The Idaho National Laboratory released its annual economic impact summary Wednesday. It shows that INL continues to be a major contributor to Idaho’s economy with continued growth, much like the rest of eastern Idaho.

Highlights from the “INL Fiscal Year 2020 Economic Impact Summary” include:

  • INL’s total economic impact grew by more $336 million to reach $2.88 billion overall, a 13.2% increase year over year.
  • INL employs an average of 5,022. That makes INL contractor Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) Idaho’s seventh-largest private employer and tenth-largest employer when compared to all public and private businesses.
  • INL spent more than $229 million with Idaho businesses.
  • BEA contributed $566,000 in charitable giving, technology-based economic development grants and K-12 STEM giving.

“INL’s important mission directly contributes to changing the world’s energy future,” said INL Director John Wagner. “It’s this important mission that’s driving the growth at the lab. Our workforce wants to work where they have the biggest opportunity to make a difference and they are excited to live in the great state of Idaho.”

Dr. Wagner said the lab is nearing execution of major projects that have been years in the making. Some of the biggest projects are partnerships negotiated for the design and build of a versatile test reactor for cleaner energy and a nuclear power system(s) that can be built and deployed on the moon, and possibly used for subsequent missions to Mars. He said these projects in themselves are a great recruiting tool. It's even one of the reasons Wagner was excited as he was announced the new director last fall.

"I'd like to say that this was all predicted, but this is exactly what I was expecting and hoping to happen," Dr. Wagner said. "To be able to be apart of that and really making history as we do our work, it's incredibly rewarding."

Among the new hires at the laboratory, 340 have been natives to Idaho, with 160 coming from other parts of the country. Rebeca Swaner is one of them. She was hired on recently as a Nuclear Science and Technology Lab Manager out of Hillsboro, Oregon. She's one on many new hires who have been working remotely, with occasional commutes to Eastern Idaho.

"I've always known about the INL, even before I went to college and I always wanted to come work here," said Swaner.

Swaner said her dream job at the Idaho National Laboratory encouraged her to pursue a degree in Chemistry, but it was the site's mission for clean energy that sealed the deal.

"We're always looking to do better… can we reduce those carbon emissions and can I be apart of that," she said.

Swaner's situation is becoming more common at the laboratory, with the INL's impact on all 50 states.

"We cast a wide net because we feel it's important to find the best, brightest, and diverse talent," said INL Talent Acquisition Manager Terrence Buck.

Buck said his recruitment team uses every resource available, such as social media, job search engines and other acquisition techniques to locate great candidates. He said even amidst the pandemic, his team has been able to reach a lot of people for a variety of positions.

"I've been in the DOE system for about 26 years and I love working with people… I love helping people… I love the smile on their face when we make that call or face to face and give them that job offer. It's just really rewarding to me," Buck said.

It's important to note that the INL isn't growing for the sake of growth. DOE officials say they are seeing a real need for innovation, especially when it comes to cybersecurity. A good example is the recent ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline that spurred the company to shutdown pipeline operations, causing massive gasoline disruptions in the southeast U.S.

"Our experts are internationally known for controlled systems cyber security and we're seeing just how important that is it seems like every day," said Dr. Wagner.

Two cybersecurity researchers at Idaho National Laboratory, Andy Bochman and Sarah Freeman, published a book to help train employees at public utilities to recognize cybersecurity vulnerabilities and develop measures to defend their networks from increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.

Recruiters say it's these types of projects and innovation that draw interest from job seekers.

"I believe that the Idaho National Laboratory has one of the greatest missions around and our vision to change to world's energy future,that in itself brings a lot of people," said Buck.

INL is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory that performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.

Article Topic Follows: Idaho

Bre Clark

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