Innovation is key to powering the new American economy


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I am honored to speak to the Boise City Club on July 19, and there are many things I look forward to sharing with people in the Treasure Valley. This includes highlighting Idaho National Laboratory’s efforts to protect our nation’s critical infrastructure, work with industry to develop and deploy the advanced nuclear technologies needed to ensure US economic prosperity and protect the environment, and power NASA missions to Mars and Pluto.

You will hear about INL’s effort to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2031, research to develop longer-lived electric vehicle batteries, and INL’s partnerships with Idaho businesses, colleges and universities, and local, regional and state governments.

Perhaps most importantly, I will talk about how our nation needs to again become the world leader in innovation.

The United States led the world in innovation during the 20th century. Our nation was enterprising, creative and, importantly, unfraid to fail. If you aren’t failing, you’re not innovating. This bold spirit built the US economy and helped create a remarkable standard of living for our citizens.

Past success, however, guarantees nothing in the future. Today’s global economy is changing at speed. To continue as the world’s innovation leader, the US needs a plan. And we need to establish the critical partnerships that enable us to lead and prosper into the 21st century.

That’s why I was pleased to participate in last month’s Mountain West Innovation Summit in Wyoming.

Leaders from across the Mountain West addressed the establishment of a regional approach to innovation. The summit emerged from a report issued by the Council on Competitiveness, which identified policies and strategies needed to empower US innovation and drive our economy forward. It also answered questions like:

  • How can the US spark innovation to drive economic growth and more inclusive prosperity?
  • How do we foster competitiveness at all levels?
  • How can we create greater resiliency and increase national security?
  • And are delays and inaction due to well-intentioned regulations posing a greater risk to our future leadership and prosperity than the risks they intend to mitigate?

The commission addressed the importance of developing regional partnerships and using available resources in places such as the Mountain West and Alaska.

Why the Mountain West? There are several reasons. Mountain West states, industries, colleges and universities have a long history of innovation and collaboration.

And the Mountain West contains Idaho National Laboratory, an unifying organization that has helped drive US innovation for 70 years and is working with regional stakeholders on advanced energy and national security initiatives.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon recently visited INL facilities together. This ended with INL signing a working agreement with the Wyoming Energy Authority that will drive research collaboration in the future.

INL, which is the nation’s nuclear energy research and development laboratory, as well as a leader in cybersecurity and broader clean energy research, also has a similar working agreement with the University of Utah.

These new regional partnerships join INL’s long history of working with Idaho’s colleges and universities to educate students and train them for the jobs of the future.

Innovative, advanced technologies are coming. Will the US be a global leader? Will our communities and states be prepared to staff and supply them? And will we be able to attract investment and diverse talent?

These are the conversations regional leaders must have as we look for ways to ensure American prosperity through innovation. This will be my primary focus at the City Club on July 19.

I hope you will attend and participate because innovation, teamwork, creativity and intelligent risk-taking will help us lay the groundwork for the new economy.

John Wagner is the director of Idaho National Laboratory.


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