By Christine Arrington
Maybe it’s something in the water. Or in the famous dairy products. Aggie ice cream anyone?
Or in the DNA. Some professors at Columbia University are doing research on whether or not the great migration from Europe to America selected a particular population of people who were significantly more risk oriented—genetically!—than those who chose not to come.
And a tolerance for risk is an important part of innovation.
The fact is that year after year more new businesses are started in Utah than in almost any other state, and many of those businesses are built on substantial, creative innovation. Call it a gift from the pioneer heritage or a result of the inveterate optimism of the West, innovation is alive and well in the Huntsman School of Business and its alumni community.
In recognition of the economic resilience of Utah State’s hometown, Time Magazine christened Logan one of 10 “Boomtown USA” cities, in its April 2, 2012, issue. Under the heading, “A look at growing cities and what’s fueling their growth,” Logan was shown with just 3.9% unemployment on a “Boomtown” map of the U.S., at a time when the national rate was 8.3%. Why? “Roughly 1 in 5 employees works in manufacturing, much of it food-focused. Pepperidge Farm, for example, is expanding Goldfish-cracker production at an area plant.”
Have you heard that theme somewhere else recently? The needed resurgence of U.S. manufacturing?
Utah State University, of course, has a strong legacy of innovation, particularly in its Space Dynamics Lab, in engineering, and in agriculture. Its Commercial Enterprises program launched in January 2012 is described as “the one stop shop for intellectual property protection and business development.”
Add to this the business innovations that have come from graduates of the Huntsman School of Business—innovations that may be less well known, in some cases—and an even stronger picture emerges of how this culture, this kind of education, and these values have produced significant innovation and development for the better.
Young-Chul Hong from Korea, for example, earned an MBA at Utah State in 1973. He returned to the specialty steel business his father had started, Kiswire Trading, becoming president and CEO in 1988. He oversaw the opening of new factories and the diversification of the company’s product line. Today the company has $2 billion in revenue, a 10% global market share, and 4,600 employees in 19 production facilities, in Korea, China, Malaysia, and the U.S.
Young-Chul decided recently that even more innovation was needed. The company has opened a pioneering factory catering to homemakers’ schedules, and it has another socially inventive factory designed to be run by skilled retirees who told the management team that they didn’t want to retire yet.
Kiswire also is deeply involved in developing state-of-the-art superconductive wire. The Foster Business magazine reported this past spring that Kiswire’s superconducting coils are to be “a key part of Korea’s contribution to the International Thermal Energy Reactor (ITER). The much anticipated nuclear fusion device, under construction in France, is attempting to atomically convert materials in sea water into plasma of 100 million degrees Celsius—an ‘artificial sun’ that could finally solve the planet’s renewable energy conundrum.”
If the project succeeds, it will need coils that can carry “a magnetic field of unimaginable strength,” and that’s exactly what Kiswire is developing.
A real son of Cache Valley, David Daines graduated from Utah State with a degree in economics in 1976. He earned an M.S. in agricultural economics from Iowa State in 1979, and then he worked all over the world for giant agribusiness firms such as Continental Grain. At one point he managed strategic planning, marketing, and accounting for 130,000 acres on five farms in Argentina and Brazil.
He even found time to serve as an LDS mission president in Guatemala from 2002 to 2005, where he directed pastoral care for 12,000 people.
Since October 2009, he has been wrestling with reinvention—how to craft 21st century redevelopment in Afghanistan, how to take all that history has taught us about culture and technology and infrastructure and use that to build a foundation that will foster stability and economic growth. Just imagine trying to rebuild a civilization almost from scratch.
David is a field program officer and member of the Badghis Province Provincial Reconstruction Team of USAID. His job is to help “coordinate stabilization, reconstruction, and development projects with the military, local government, civil society, and other donors.” One can only imagine how valuable his economic, agricultural, innovation, and leadership skills are in that brave new world.
Ron Jibson is the CEO of Questar and the head of the Board of Trustees of Utah State. He graduated from Utah State in 1978 with a degree in civil engineering.
Today he is conversant with the intense innovation needed to create sustainability in energy. When he spoke on campus last fall, he said the goal must be, “Meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
He has a solar home in the mountains, off the grid, with a backup generator, and he can parse the strengths and weaknesses of every kind of power with ease. He says, for example, “Coal and nuclear steam towers are slow to turn on and inefficient under less than full capacity.”
He is very interested that Utah State is working on turning algae into energy, and he notes, just as an aside, “There are seven billion people in the world now, and two billion of them don’t have electricity at home.”
Ron sees hope in our “100-year supply of natural gas,” as we continue to improve the technology for “directional drilling” to retrieve it. “We are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” he likes to say. Now we can go down two miles and then drill one mile horizontally to get to the natural gas. This kind of technological innovation for retrieving natural gas from shale needs to continue, and he’s working to see that it does.