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Micron should be more open

Statesman Editorial board
January 15, 2008
Idaho Statesman

Will Micron Technology stay in Idaho, or will it go? Even state officials are baffled. Gov. Butch Otter's chief economist says Micron will stay. Otter's economic development guru suggests Idaho should plan on life without its largest private employer - just in case.

The whole situation has a muddled, improvised feel, largely of Micron's making.

Private companies like to keep their competitors guessing - the essence of a shrewd business strategy. Companies shouldn't leave the state's decision-makers guessing. But Micron's tight-lipped approach to losses and layoffs has bred a culture of confusion.

The confusion reached a head Friday. Jim Ellick, the head of the Commerce Department, said the state should prepare two budgets: one that assumes Micron will remain in the state, one that assumes Micron will leave.

Micron, Ellick told the Statesman Friday, is "either going to stay and everything's great or they're going to leave and everything's bad."

Ellick doesn't exactly chart out much of a middle ground - and, of course, he provides a refresher in the value of economic diversification.

State economist Mike Ferguson offered a much more hopeful forecast Friday - a relative phrase, since he projects the company will lose 1,000 workers in 2008 and another 1,000 in 2009. "We don't believe we're on the verge of losing our biggest private employer," Ferguson said. "Beyond 2009, we see growth resuming."

Ferguson's prediction seems consistent with recent comments made by Mike Reynoldson, Micron's head of government affairs. Earlier this month, he told legislators that the company expects to see depressed prices for DRAM memory improve in 2009. Said Reynoldson: "We have always come out of a downturn as a stronger company."

How should lawmakers read the company's signals, and the mixed messages from the executive branch? The Micron question will go a long way to set the tone for the spending decisions facing lawmakers.

It may make some lawmakers uneasy about Otter's $3 billion general fund budget, and the governor's plans to pour surplus dollars into college scholarships, state building and park maintenance and scientific modeling of Idaho's aquifers. It may also give lawmakers qualms about raising vehicle registration fees to address a statewide backlog in highways.

In a February 2005 report - which still appears on Micron's Web site, even after $320 million in 2006-07 losses and 1,100 Treasure Valley layoffs - the company touts its economic impact on Idaho. At the time, Micron accounted for 3.7 percent of Idaho's economic activity. Said the report: "It is unusual for a single private employer - especially in the high-tech sector - to have such a large impact on the state's economy."

With that impact comes responsibility. Even in a turbulent business such as the semiconductor industry, transparency is key. The guessing game over Micron's future provides more proof that Micron has done a poor job of helping Idaho understand what the future holds.

As a Statehouse adage goes, when Micron catches the sniffles, the state's economy gets the flu.

We can hardly blame lawmakers if they're having a hard time reading the thermometer.

Originally posted at

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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