By Associated Press - Tuesday, March 23, 2021

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Idaho Falls and Idaho National Laboratory have joined together on plans to repurpose fields near the laboratory into a hub for research institutions after the city received more than $55,000 in grant funding in hopes of expanding businesses and amenities.

The city received a grant from Battelle Energy Alliance for $55,700 earlier this month to establish plans for an innovation district focused on the Center for Advanced Energy Studies and the regional campuses of Idaho State University and the University of Idaho, The Post Register reported Monday.

Innovation districts are created in or near major cities where specific lines of business create hubs for broader economic development. The most famous innovation district is Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, an overlap between three high-profile universities where hundreds of companies have moved in.

“We can’t predict the future or how large we will grow, but certainly there will be a need for the research INL conducts and the related businesses in a district like this one,” said Marsha McDaniel, economic development office director for the lab.

The Idaho National Laboratory has partnered with regional college campus for years on energy and cybersecurity research, and there were previous conversations about building out the area before the city developed an interest in doing so.

Dana Briggs, city economic development coordinator and innovation district plan manager, said the stakeholders will soon begin reaching out to other businesses and residents living nearby. The city is also considering a wide variety of additions, including restaurants, stores and expanding its housing stock to let people live closer to their work.

“The point of the innovation district is to be pretty mindful and deliberate about what is included so the larger purpose of technology and innovation is achieved,” Briggs said, adding that it would expand potential partnerships for the nearby universities.

”Right now we’re very much a commuter school,” said Lyle Castle, dean of the ISU-Idaho Falls campus. “Instead of being over here and somewhat isolated, it would have other amenities around for our students to participate in.”

It is unclear when the city expects to complete the plans for the innovation district.

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