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New West Daily Roundup for July 13, 2016

Today in New West news: CNBC releases “Top States for Business” list, Harvard University sues Micron over patent, and Puget Sound to close two units at Colstrip.

Each year, since 2006, CNBC has released its rankings of the “Top States for Business,” drafted from a variety of metrics and opinion from business and policy experts. The study weighs ten broad categories as follows from most-weighted to least-weighted: Workforce, Cost of Doing Business, Infrastructure, Economy, Quality of Life, Technlogy & Innovation, Education, Business Friendliness, Cost of Living, and Access to Capital.

To followers of New West business (or U.S. business as a whole), it should come as no surprise that Utah topped this year’s “Top States for Business” list. Among CNBC’s reasons to highlight the Beehive State: a strong tech sector (they don’t call it the Silicon Slopes for nothing) boosted by the presence of unicorns like Qualtrics and InsideSales.com, affordable real estate, tax breaks, education, and public transit. You can see a video below of CNBC’s Scott Cohn speaking of the Beehive State’s ascendency (along with an interview with Governor Gary Herbert).

CNBC’s assessment of Utah isn’t all rosy, however. While the state was strong in many metrics, it was deficient in terms of Access to Capital—no doubt a sticking point with many companies hoping to lure more interest from venture capital firms and angel investors. Others have criticized Governor Herbert’s approach to Utah’s economy, both within and without his party. From CNBC:

To be sure, the economic expansion in Utah has not been without critics. Gov. Herbert, seeking his second full term as governor this year, beat back a Republican primary challenge last month by Overstock.com CEO Jonathan Johnson, who accused Herbert of trying to pick winners and losers instead of empowering business as a whole.

In the general election, Democrat Mike Weinholtz, chairman of the privately held medical staffing firm CHG Healthcare Services, has criticized the quality of the new jobs.

“Gov. Herbert likes to tout the number of jobs that we have, but we don’t have enough high-paying jobs that pay a living wage,” Weinholtz said during a recent campaign appearance.

Utah might be king of the heap this year, but the other New West states fared pretty well—surprisingly well, in some cases. Colorado, for instance, came in third, with CNBC choosing to highlight the Centennial State’s skilled workforce and burgeoning marijuana industry. Cost of living and cost of business, however, came back to bite the state, which fared well in most other metrics.

The most interesting takeaway, in our opinion, is how Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana fared.

Wyoming, for instance, tied for 13th place with Virginia; CNBC praised the state’s workforce, infrastructure, education, and quality of life, but noted the state came in dead last when it came to accessing capital. Idaho, meanwhile, came in 15th, bolstered by cheap business costs, business friendliness, and affordable living. It came in 49th for quality of education, however. Finally, Montana came in at a respectable 22nd place, boosted by business cost, economic strength, and quality of life. Its worst rankings came in workforce (the most heavily weighted metric), access to capital, and technology & innovation. Some good news for Montana, however: it rose six spots from last year—one of the most dramatic changes in the listing.

You can see the full “Top States for Business” list here.

Over in Idaho, according to the Idaho Statesman, Harvard University is suing Boise-based Micron Technology in federal court, alleging the company infringed on a university patent for memory-chip manufacturing. The lawsuit was filed June 24 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Harvard alleges Micron is using technology developed by chemistry Roy G. Gordon and others, which makes it easier to use “atomic layer deposition” in the manufacture of memory chips and semiconductors. Micron is one of two companies Harvard is suing; the other is California-based Global Foundries. From the Statesman:

Gordon and members of his laboratory team began inventing the technology in the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to the lawsuit. Patents were issued in 2005 and 2012, it said.

“Their efforts revolutionized the manufacture of semiconductor components, made better computers available around the world and contributed to the growth of the information economy,” Harvard said in a media release on its website.

“In this situation, Harvard has reached out to each of the named companies outside of the context of litigation and invited them to engage in good faith licensing discussions,” the university said on its website. “The companies have refused to engage and have, so far, continued their infringement activities.”

Harvard is seeking back royalties and wants Micron to stop using the process and materials.

Gordon, Jill Becker, Dennis Hausmann and Seigi Suh are inventors named on the two patents Harvard alleges Micron infringed.

Finally, over the past few months, we’ve been following developments regarding Colstrip, a Montanan coal-burning electricity plant that’s the site of a policy tug-of-war between Pacific Northwestern customers looking to cut coal from their electricity usage and Montana residents who depend on coal for a living, in and outside of Colstrip. According to the Billings Gazette, the balance seems to be shifting toward the Pacific Northwest, as Puget Sound Energy (co-owner of Colstrip, and based in Bellevue, Washington) announced they would close two of Colstrip’s four units by 2022—settling a lawsuit filed by environmentalists over emissions at the plant. From the Gazette:

Terms of the partial shutdown of the 2,100-megawatt Colstrip plant were contained in a consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Montana.

The move follows a wave of coal plant closures that have transformed the utility industry in the United States, as cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas replaces coal as the dominant fuel source for electricity generation.

The latest announcement comes in the heart of coal country and is likely to reverberate through the election season, as Republicans seek to topple Montana’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock. The state holds almost one-third of the nation’s known coal resources.

The portions of the plant slated to close under Tuesday’s agreement — units 1 and 2 — opened in the 1970s. Their presence transformed a sparsely populated agricultural area of southeastern Montana into the bustling industrial town of Colstrip.

Bullock reacted angrily to news of the shutdown. He said the state was left out of discussions over Colstrip’s future that took place among attorneys involved in a 2013 lawsuit from the Sierra Club and Montana Environmental Information Center.

“The parties in the lawsuit took care of themselves. There’s nothing about the workers, nothing about the community,” Bullock said. He said he would work with Colstrip leaders to ease the impact by seeking out economic development grants, but he acknowledged there was little he could do to reverse the planned closure.

Bullock’s Republican opponent, Bozeman technology entrepreneur Greg Gianforte, said the closure represented a “failure of leadership” that underscored the need for a new administration.

[…]

The 2013 lawsuit from the Sierra Club and Montana Environmental Center against the plant’s six co-owners said upgrades meant to prolong the life of the plant were made without proper permits.

Anne Hedges with the Montana Environmental Information Center said Tuesday’s consent decree requires Colstrip’s owners to decrease air pollution at the two impacted units until the day they close. She said the 2022 “end date” gives state and local officials room to figure out what’s next for the community that depends on the plant.

“We are willing to live with those dates. It gives everybody time to plan and work toward a new future for the town of Colstrip,” she said.

According to the Gazette, the two units set to shutter generate about 600 megawatts, though most of the power goes toward industrial/commercial customers and not residences. For context, one megawatt is enough power for approximately 1,000 households.

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