Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Business group seeks computer donations for students in need

Idaho Business for Education, a non-profit organization of nearly 250 businesses across Idaho, is launching a new phase of its Close the Divide campaign to get computers and internet service to students who do not have these learning tools at home.

“If we do not close the divide these students who don’t have these learning tools will not have an equal opportunity to learn should the COVID-19 virus force students to learn part of the time or all of the time at home,” said IBE President Rod Gramer. “It is imperative that we get these resources to students for the 2020-21 school year.”

IBE is calling on communities around the state to see if they have spare computers that can be provided to students who do not have devices at home. On Aug. 5, IBE is hosting Close the Divide Day, an effort aimed at collecting spare laptops from the community to donate to the nearly 200,000 Idaho students without devices.

Volunteers will be at the College of Eastern Idaho, in the parking lot, accepting computers from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

If you cannot make it on Aug. 5, you can drop computers off at Citizens Community Bank in the following locations throughout the month of August:
  • Rexburg Office, 452 N 2nd East, Rexburg
  • Ammon Office, 2797 South 25th East, Ammon
  • Taylor Crossing Office, 900 South Utah Ave, Idaho Falls
Another way you can help is by donating at

For more information on how you can donate a computer or make a donation, contact IBE's eastern Idaho chair, Rae Moss at

The Close the Divide campaign media sponsors are IBE Members the Spokane Teachers Credit Union; the Innovia Foundation; The Garrigan Lyman Group; KTVB; KREM; and the Idaho Press. Intermountain Gas and Idaho Central Credit Union are IBE members supporting the effort.

Monday, August 3, 2020

A Mindset of Abundance | Kristopher Walton, Kristopher L. Walton Associates

Kristopher Walton
Considering himself an entrepreneurial social worker sets Kristopher Walton apart from other mental health professionals. “I use a lot of business ideas in order to create an outcome. I measure outcomes,” he said. He feels this approach helps his clients to work toward the future and limits their time in mental health counseling with a growth mentality. “My belief is the world has abundance, there's enough for everybody,” he said.

Most therapists don't end up being in private practice. Social work is usually focused on community mental health. Walton agrees that he doesn't fit into that mold, but he's been working with clients for 30 years. “I'm an entrepreneur, I live my life in the entrepreneur business perspective with business ideas mixed with therapy ideas and that's fun,” he explained.

Walton showed his entrepreneurial spirit early in his life when he became an inventor. When he was 15 years old and in 9th grade, he invented the candy pen. On his own, he found a patent attorney, and with $1,000 in a bag, he hired him. The patent attorney told him, “There's nothing like that out there do you want to put something together?" He went ahead and had drawings created with the mock-up of the pen. Once this was complete he took a bus to Salt Lake City and met the investor, alone, at the library. The investor said he had $100,000 in cash to invest. Based on advice his father had given him, Walton demanded 51% of the company. The investor wasn't too excited about that and said, “Young man you are 15 years old. There's no way I'm going to give you 51%.” Walton held to the advice from his dad and kept replying that “my dad said”. Believing that he'd get nothing without having 51%, he walked away from the deal and his invention didn't go anywhere.

“Life is an opportunity versus a missed opportunity and we have to figure out how to innovate and create ourselves from the opportunities we miss out on,” he said.

As a therapist, Walton said he really loves his career. “I love being able to maneuver in life versus being stuck,” he said. “I see business owners being afraid, especially in the world of COVID. If you look at it through the lens of fear, it's going to cause negative reactions,” he explained, “What is the opportunity of COVID?” He advises looking at your business through a lens of opportunity. He believes that envisioning your future and creating the system will get you to your goals. “The biggest part is to have faith, hope, and belief that it will happen,” he said.

Understanding that receiving therapy can have a negative stigma, Walton works with his clients to make sure he's the right fit and works hard to work on helping clients grow rather than focus on the past. He gives a one-hour free consult to make sure his potential clients feel that working with him is the right decision.

Walton is a published author and the name of his book is Navigating Your Mind – Achieving a Life of Peace, Joy, and Happiness. “When we reach out and tell people how we think, feel and believe, a lot of times those people don't necessarily understand how we feel and so we pull inside of ourselves and we internalize a lot of fear, and that creates disconnection,” he says about his book. He teaches in the book how to overcome embarrassment and shame so individuals can deal with their pain and heal. “My main demographic is 14 years old to 45 years old,” he said.

Walton has also started a podcast called What We Don't Talk About. This show is focused on the complexities of young adult life. “I talk about helping women and teenage girls how to be strong independent people. Outside sources do not have women in mind in order for them to be valued,” he said. He explained that this is seen in all aspects of life and he is using the format to educate and to help women create happy lives with boundaries and healthy relationships.

Having anxiety himself, the training that he has had has helped him be able to manage that himself. “We have to learn how to get rid of our stinky thinking,” he said, “I'm a huge person on facing fear.” One of his fears is skydiving, so to overcome that he has skydived several times. “Once you face your fear there's so much less to be afraid of and you can become what you want to be,” he said.

Navigating life can be difficult on your own. Walton recommends creating a support system and consider utilizing professional help if you are feeling overwhelmed. We all have the power within us to live lives of abundance and joy.


For more information on Kristopher Walton and his services, visit his website at You can find information about the podcast on Facebook at

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Rare glassy metal discovered in battery performance research

New research describes the evolution of nanostructural lithium atoms (blue) depositing onto an electrode (yellow) during the battery charging operation. 
Materials scientists studying recharging fundamentals say they have made an astonishing discovery that could open the door to better batteries, faster catalysts and other materials science leaps.

Scientists from Idaho National Laboratory and University of California San Diego scrutinized the earliest stages of lithium recharging and learned that slow, low-energy charging causes electrodes to collect atoms in a disorganized way that improves charging behavior. This non-crystalline “glassy” lithium had never been observed, and creating such amorphous metals has traditionally been extremely difficult.

The findings suggest strategies for fine-tuning recharging approaches to boost battery life and — more intriguingly — for making glassy metals for other applications. The study appeared online this week in Nature Materials.

Charging knowns, unknowns


Lithium metal is a preferred anode for high-energy rechargeable batteries. Yet the recharging process (depositing lithium atoms onto the anode surface) is not well understood at the atomic level. The way lithium atoms deposit onto the anode can vary from one recharge cycle to the next, leading to erratic recharging and reduced battery life.

The INL/UCSD team wondered whether recharging patterns were influenced by the earliest congregation of the first few atoms, a process known as nucleation. “That initial nucleation may affect your battery performance, safety and reliability,” said Gorakh Pawar, an INL staff scientist and one of the paper’s two lead authors.

Watching lithium embryos form


The researchers combined images and analyses from a powerful electron microscope with liquid-nitrogen cooling and computer modeling. The cryo-state electron microscopy allowed them to see the creation of lithium metal “embryos,” and the computer simulations helped explain what they saw.
In particular, they discovered that certain conditions created a less structured form of lithium that was amorphous (like glass) rather than crystalline (like diamond).

“The power of cryogenic imaging to discover new phenomena in materials science is showcased in this work,” said Shirley Meng, who led UC San Diego’s pioneering cryo-microscopy work. The imaging and spectroscopic data are often convoluted, she said. “True teamwork enabled us to interpret the experimental data with confidence because the computational modeling helped decipher the complexity.”

A glassy surprise


Pure amorphous elemental metals had never been observed before now. They are extremely difficult to produce, so metal mixtures (alloys) are typically required to achieve a “glassy” configuration, which imparts powerful material properties.

During recharging, glassy lithium embryos were more likely to remain amorphous throughout growth. While studying what conditions favored glassy nucleation, the team was surprised again.
“We can make amorphous metal in very mild conditions at a very slow charging rate,” said Boryann Liaw, an INL directorate fellow and INL lead on the work. “It’s quite surprising.”

That outcome was counterintuitive because experts assumed that slow deposition rates would allow the atoms to find their way into an ordered, crystalline lithium. Yet modeling work explained how reaction kinetics drive the glassy formation. The team confirmed those findings by creating glassy forms of four more reactive metals that are attractive for battery applications.  

What’s next?

The research results could help meet the goals of the Battery500 consortium, a Department of Energy initiative that funded the research. The consortium aims to develop commercially viable electric vehicle batteries with a cell level specific energy of 500 Wh/kg. Plus, this new understanding could lead to more effective metal catalysts, stronger metal coatings and other applications that could benefit from glassy metals. Read more about this research:

Commercial real estate transactions | 07.27.2020

Commercial real estate transactions reported July 27 by TOK Commercial:
  • The Radley Group leased 1,000 square feet of office space located at 2285 E. 25th Street in Idaho Falls. Dustin Mortimer of TOK Commercial facilitated the transaction.
  • Helix Auto, LLC leased 3,865 square feet of retail space located at 555 N. Yellowstone in Idaho Falls. Brent Wilson and Brian Wilson of TOK Commercial represented the landlord. Shane Murphy of Venture One Properties represented the tenant.
  • Rebound Financial renewed their 525 square feet of office space located at 626 S. Woodruff Avenue in Idaho Falls. Dustin Mortimer of TOK Commercial facilitated the transaction.
  • Tolsma USA leased 1,000 square feet of office space in the Colonial Plaza, located at 1276 S. Woodruff Avenue in Idaho Falls. Dustin Mortimer of TOK Commercial facilitated the transaction.

Friday, July 24, 2020

INL seeks partners in lunar power system development

Battelle Energy Alliance, the managing and operating contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, is seeking information from leaders in the nuclear and space industries to develop innovative technologies for a fission surface power system that can be operated on the moon.

The request for information can be viewed here. Responses are sought by Sept. 8. After receiving responses, INL will issue a request for proposal.

Sponsored by NASA in collaboration with DOE and INL, the request for information seeks partnership on technologies and approaches to test and validate an FSP design that can be built and deployed on the moon, and used for subsequent missions, such as to Mars.

“Idaho National Laboratory has a central role in emphasizing the United States’ global leadership in nuclear innovation, with the anticipated demonstration of advanced reactors on the INL Site,” said Dr. John Wagner, associate laboratory director of INL’s Nuclear Science & Technology Directorate.

“The prospect of deploying an advanced reactor to the lunar surface is as exciting as it is challenging, and partnering with the most forward-thinking companies in the private sector and national laboratory system will help us get there.”

For more information on the RFI, interested parties may contact Aaron Weston at

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Idahoan Foods offering 10,000 free face coverings today

Idahoan Foods has joined forces with the city of Idaho Falls to donate and distribute thousands of cloth face coverings and packaged potatoes to the local community in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drew Facer, CEO of Idahoan Foods, accepted the invitation from Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot to take part in the CEO Pay it Forward Challenge. CEO Pay It Forward began in Boise and is aimed at assisting non-profit organizations during the COVID crisis. When he heard of VanderSloot’s challenge, Facer contacted Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper and they devised a plan that would reach deep into the community.

“Several days ago, I had read an article regarding Mayor Casper and the city’s deliberation concerning the use of face coverings,” Facer said. “Knowing that face coverings are now being required in many public settings, we worked together on a plan to donate 10,000 face masks throughout the community. Because Idahoan Foods is a critical infrastructure company, we have the ability to source large quantities of personal protective equipment, making this possible. Our city is well deserving and provides a great service to our community, and working with our local officials seemed to be a natural fit.”

The company is donating 10,000 anti-microbial, cloth face coverings to city residents. Distribution is today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside the company’s headquarters, located at 900 Pier View Drive in Snake River Landing, and again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., or while supplies last. Undistributed masks will be donated to schools and public offices.

In addition to the face coverings, Idahoan is also donating several thousand packages of their signature “Buttery Homestyle Mashed Potatoes” to residents who come pick up masks. Both the face coverings and potatoes will be distributed on a “first-come, first-served” basis and will be given out with a limit of five per resident. Idahoan is making a further donation of over 4,500 pouches of potatoes to the Idaho Falls Community Food Basket. Idahoan Foods' total contribution amounts to just over $37,000.

 “Although Idahoan is an international name in the food production industry, it also happens to be one of our great local community business partners,” said Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper. “With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, to have a business step up to provide face coverings and product to so many of our residents is inspiring. A donation like this is just a remarkable thing and we are grateful for their generosity.”

The one-size-fits-all cloth face coverings are non-certified but are washable and said to retain their antimicrobial properties for up to three washings, according to Idahoan, and can continue to be used as a regular face covering with normal washing and care.

To keep the CEO Pay it Forward Challenge alive, Facer further stated, “It is my privilege to challenge two people to continue this great effort. The first is Clint Tavenner, the managing partner of Cooper Norman and the second is Chet Taylor, CEO of EVO Automation. I know both of these men well and believe they will make a significant impact as they Pay it Forward. We love the fact that our company is built within communities that serve each other.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Making Golf a Year-round Thing | Bob Gretz, Bob's Indoor Golf

Bob Gretz and his children enjoying
a nice day in eastern Idaho.
When Bob Gretz's wife informed him that they were moving from Washington, D.C., to Idaho Falls to be closer to family, he immediately investigated what eastern Idaho would offer him in the way of golfing.

Learning that there were only about seven months of the year in which golfing was feasible he started to panic, wondering what he'd do without his daily golfing “fix.” This led to him to investigate the availability of indoor golf facilities, and he found the area lacking.

“One of the reasons it's so cool is because of this market. I started looking at some numbers and there are 6,000 regular golfers in Idaho Falls, and the number of rounds they put in the seven-month season is really big. I figured there had to be a need to put in an indoor golf facility,” he said.

Gretz's prior career was in corporate America, in the waste management business. He admits he didn't see himself doing this at this point in his life. “It's fun,” he said. “I have really gotten more people who are saying thanks for doing this instead of 'Why are you doing this?' The people are fun,” he said.

The facility is for anyone, novice to expert. “The worst part about public golf is the constant feeling of someone behind you, staring you down. It's stressful,” he said. "This facility allows new learners to practice and get comfortable with the game before getting on the real course. It also allows experts to come and perfect their game."

Opening the business was a leap of faith, he said. Although he didn't have financing secured he went ahead and signed a lease on the space. He was able to find a bank that supported his vision. “Sink or swim,” he said.

Gretz is grateful that he has had a lot of family and friends who have pitched in and helped, from his wife painting the wall murals to his daughter taking care of the books and his son-in-law coming from Colorado to put together the putting green.

“The first winter was better than we anticipated," he said. By mid-February we were seven days a week, pushing 12 hours. And then COVID hit,” he said. “We are doing a day at a time things right now.”

He believes that that the pandemic has really pushed people to buy local. He's seen individuals really supporting local business.

The facility not only houses golf. The East Idaho Cornhole Association uses the space for cornhole practice and events. It is also a place where you can bring your business associates and do team building events with the simulators or putting practice. There is a conference room available, too.

There were unanticipated challenges starting the business. Gretz said there were unanticipated price points he bumped up against, as well as challenges with his beer and wine license. The advantage of it just being him running the business means he's been able to make adjustments quickly.

Gretz has also faced physical challenges. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 10 years ago. “I don't let it be a barrier," he said. "When the end of the day comes around I'm pretty worn out. I have to pace myself. Everyone here knows it and understands it. This is one of the most unbiased populations I've ever lived in. They watch out for me. It's nice. It's a pain in the butt dealing with any kind of handicap, but it gives you a look into how other people have to live. There are people worse off than you.”

Although the corporate world is steady, Bob wishes he would have left it long ago and started a business. He believes in being involved in the business and being present for the customers to see him. His vision for the business is to continue to grow his clientele and be here for those starved for golf all year round. 


For more information on Bob's Indoor Golf go to their website at or their Facebook page at

Friday, July 17, 2020

Idaho Falls-based business receives DOE Small Business of the Year Award

The Marcom team, CEO Marcella Medor second from left.
MarCom, LLC, a small business headquartered in Idaho Falls, has won the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Small Business of the Year Award for Fiscal Year 2019.

Idaho National Laboratory (INL) nominated MarCom for this award, in large part due to their  support of INL’s recent award-winning project, the Remote-Handled Low-Level Waste (RHLLW) Disposal Facility. This facility enables safe disposal of low-level radioactive waste.

MarCom delivered technical and software development support for RHLLW, allowing productivity and efficiency gains to support the start of operations and the recovery from a six-month construction delay due to inclement weather and equipment failures. With the support of the MarCom team, the facility was completed for $4.7 million less than the baseline cost estimate and six months ahead of schedule, despite the earlier delays.

“The software MarCom built and all the work they did for RHLLW was fantastic,” said Sadie Butler, an INL project manager on the RHLLW team. “They are a great resource, and we are lucky to have them supporting us here at the lab.”

RHLLW is just one of many projects where MarCom has supported INL and other DOE labs. Founded in 2003 by Marcella Medor, MarCom is a Small Business Administration-certified, Native American-owned and woman-owned business with offices in Idaho Falls, Butte, Montana, and Fort Collins, Colorado. They supply management, administrative, engineering, nuclear operations and health-and-safety services to DOE sites around the nation, with 90% of their work coming from INL.

“Being a successful small business is all about your people,” Medor said. “The people that work with you make the difference between a business that can flourish and one that stays stagnant. Here at MarCom, we have some truly excellent staff.”

“MarCom definitely deserves this award,” said Stacey Francis, INL’s Small Business Program manager. “They have always been able to provide unique services to the lab, with their critical staff augmentation support and strong quality assurance background.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

CAES unveils new fellowship, names inaugural fellow

Veronika Vashnik
The Center for Advanced Energy Studies has announced its first Idaho Science and Technology Policy/CAES fellow. The fellowship is one of two offered through the newly launched Idaho Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program, a collaborative effort among three CAES entities: University of Idaho, Boise State University and Idaho State University.

Idaho Science and Technology Policy fellows spend a year embedded in an Idaho state government agency, developing and implementing solutions that address challenges in areas such as energy, cybersecurity, water, public health, and economic development. The program is modeled on the national American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science & Technology Policy Fellowship Program, initiated to bring scientists and engineers into a policy context where their technical knowledge and networks can inform people in government, a CAES news release said.

Sarah Hendricks
UI’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research leads the program. Nearly $300,000 was raised to launch the 2020 Idaho Science and Technology Policy Fellowship cohort.

The 2020 Idaho Science and Technology Policy fellows are:

Veronika Vazhnik, Ph.D., was selected as the inaugural ISTP/CAES Fellow.  She recently completed her doctorate in BioRenewable Systems with a minor in Operations Research at Penn State University. At INL, she has been leading Sustainability engagement programs for employees and the community. In energy research, her interests are in energy system sustainability assessment, and the technology and policy for a bio-based economy. A native of Belarus, she completed her bachelor's degree from the University of Freiburg, Germany, focusing on Earth and Environmental Sciences, with an exchange year in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Hong Kong. She will begin her fellowship in August.

Sarah Hendricks, Ph.D., has been named an ISTP Fellow. She earned her doctorate in bioinformatics and computation biology at the University of Idaho, her master's in ecology and systematic biology at San Francisco State University, and her bachelor's in biological sciences and women’s and gender studies at DePaul University. In 2019, she participated in a San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research program analyzing white rhino genomes in an effort to keep the species from going extinct. Hendricks developed an interest in species conservation as an undergraduate at DePaul University while working on butterfly genetics. This interest continued and eventually lead her to work on the Channel Islands off the coast of California where she learned about the gray foxes of these islands.Presently, she is a postdoctoral bioinformatics researcher at the University of Idaho.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Your Local Milkman | Alan Reed, Reed's Dairy

Alan Reed
The Reed's Dairy legacy started with farming and worked its way to adding the dairy through three generations. Alan Reed's uncle added milk cows to their operation and sold milk to the public in the 1950s. In 1962, they added their own processing equipment and started packaging it themselves. They also had a home delivery service at that time. “We packaged our milk and delivered it to the door,” he said.

Reed's Dairy has always been in milk delivery. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many dairys were having to dump their milk. Reed's Dairy didn't experience the same impact, and that was primarily due to their home delivery service. Already having that infrastructure in place, they were able to increase their home delivery customers. “We were gathering new customers quickly. We have great people and they stepped up to meet the need and put in a lot of hours,” he said. They have maintained about two-thirds of the customers who signed up for home delivery during the start of the pandemic.

In the beginning, Reed didn't see himself as being a milkman. “I was raised on the farming side and I didn't really do much with the cows,” he said. He had attended Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) and studied accounting. His father asked him to help his uncle with the dairy side and be involved in running the business. When spring came and he wanted to go back to farming, his father asked him to stay and help in the dairy. “When the brothers divided their operation up, I stayed on the dairy side,” he said.

Eventually taking over operations and positioning himself as the fourth generation of the legacy, Reed felt like it made sense to expand and use their cream to make ice cream. The famous ice cream is Reed's Dairy's own special recipe, and he even attended special training to learn how to make ice cream to perfect the Reed's formula. “That's been a lifesaver for Reed's Dairy -- to have that ice cream business -- because it has become really popular,” he said.

Another favorite product that people come miles for is Reed's Dairy chocolate milk. “We have a lot of out-of-state license plates in our parking lot during the summer, and I see them packing out multiple bottles of chocolate milk and putting it in their cooler,” he said. Reed's Dairy has multiple specialty milk flavors that are produced and sold at various times during the year.

Around 1986, Reed added cheese to their line of products. That included cheese curds. Again, he went back for special training. “Most of our cheese is sold as fresh cheese curds,” he said. “It's very popular.” Wanting to improve his cheese sales he also added grilled cheese sandwiches, to complement the ice cream that was sold to customers at their stores.

Reed's Dairy has continued to grow. They opened a store in Ammon around 6 1/2 years ago, and are also in Boise, with two store locations and robust home delivery. Alan's son Sam has joined the business, and has been the catalyst for opening the stores in Boise.

Family is very important to Reed and he feels a deep responsibility to honor the name. “I've grown up with a really deep commitment to family,” he said.

Reed prides himself on the quality of Reed's Dairy products. “I would rather make the best than just make something,” he said. He feels his business is successful due to integrity built over the years. “Your brand is your promise to your customer. If you break that promise you have no brand. Understand your brand and fulfill it every day,” he said.

When feelings of doubt enter his mind, his approach is to plow forward -- with caution. “I let it evolve, if it naturally comes around and everything falls into place, we move ahead. If it easily comes together it's probably going to be OK,” he said. He said his biggest risk was expanding to Boise, because it was hard to be so far away and he believes in a very hands-on approach. But risks are worth taking if you know you have a strong team.


For more information on Reed's Dairy or to set up home delivery, visit their site at You can also find them on Facebook at

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Commercial real estate transactions | Idaho Falls, Ammon

TOK Commercial reports the following real estate transactions in Idaho Falls and Ammon for the last two weeks of June 2020:
  • Craig Counseling leased 125 square feet of office space located at 1070 Riverwalk Drive in Idaho Falls. Dustin Mortimer of TOK Commercial facilitated the transaction.
  • Summit Spine and Sport Chiropractic, PLLC leased 2,737 square feet of office space located at 1515 Ashment Avenue in Idaho Falls. Dustin Mortimer of TOK Commercial facilitated the transaction.
  • Firehouse Subs leased 1,900 square feet of retail space in Sandcreek Commons, located at 3417 S. 25th E. in Ammon. Brent Wilson and Brian Wilson of TOK Commercial facilitated the transaction.
  • Gaches Family Flooring leased 2,100 square feet of retail space located at 1352 Lincoln Rd. in Idaho Falls.  Dustin Mortimer of TOK Commercial represented the landlord. Darren Puetz of High Desert Commercial represented the tenant.
  • Colling Pest Solutions, LLC leased 6,555 square feet of retail space at 1615 N. Woodruff Ave. in Idaho Falls. Dustin Mortimer of TOK Commercial represented the landlord. Darren Puetz of SVN High Desert Commercial represented the tenant.
  • Thomsen Holman Wheiler, PLLC leased 3,527 square feet of office space in Taylor Crossing, located at 1000 Riverwalk Drive in Idaho Falls. Brent Wilson and Brian Wilson of TOK Commercial facilitated the transaction.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

INL announces NRIC-focused webinar in Industry Engagement series

Idaho National Laboratory’s Small Business Program kicked off the “INL Industry Engagement” webinar series with a discussion on broader economic partnership opportunities with various INL programs. For the next session, the program will continue focusing on partnership opportunities, highlighting the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) led by the laboratory.

Authorized by the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, NRIC was established in August 2019 to provide resources to test, demonstrate and assess the performance of new nuclear technologies – essential steps that must be completed before new advanced fission systems are available commercially. Among NRIC’s goals is to accelerate the deployment of advanced nuclear energy technology.

The webinar, which will take place July 8 from 9 to 10 a.m. MDT (11 a.m. to noon EDT), will feature a presentation from NRIC Director Dr. Ashley Finan, who will discuss her vision for the program.

Register Here

Anyone interested in learning more about NRIC and partnerships related to INL’s unique nuclear research capabilities is invited to join. There will be a live Q&A session with Finan at the end of her presentation for those able to attend the live event. For those who are unable to attend live, there will be a recording available.

Click here to see a schedule of upcoming events. Click below to watch a recording of the first webinar.

Monday, June 29, 2020

'I took messy action' | Amy Wood, Radiant and Rooted and Amy Lorraine Coaching

Amy Wood
Starting a women's empowerment retreat wasn't something that Amy Wood thought would be in her life, especially one surrounding meditation and connecting with one's higher self. Amy herself was struggling with being a wife and mom and saw the insecurities she had herself in others. “I needed a tribe, I needed something outside of what I was doing in the home. My soul felt like there was more. I was being called to it,” she said. She gathered her friends and planted the seed of the idea and it grew from there.

“I took messy action,” Amy said.

It was immediately successful with women, and the first retreat was sold out within 24 hours. “I think they were craving connection. A weekend with other like-minded individuals to connect, to feel loved, to be seen, to learn more about their purpose,” Amy said. It was a surprise to Amy and her friends that it was as successful as it was. She admits that the events have evolved since the first retreat and they keep getting bigger and better.

Amy doesn't have any special schooling around thought work, but she did (and continues to do) a lot of self-learning. She and her friends invested in their own education and then they were able to teach it themselves. She feels that her soul was called to do this work.

“When they leave, it's up to them to continue to do the work to change their lives. The women who come are hungry and want to put in the work. They are incredible and they make the (retreats) incredible,” Amy said.

Most of the attendees are there because of word of mouth from prior guests. Each retreat is different and varies from weekend events to weeklong retreats. They also have events that are held for an evening, giving an abbreviated version of the longer retreats.

“I thought I had things figured out when I started, and what I learned is that I'm on the journey too,” Amy said about herself. It's a lifelong journey, and she said she now understands how perfection will never be reached, which she teaches to her attendees. “I've learned that I need the healing, too. I can give myself some grace and compassion where I fall short. It was a piece of humble pie to take the journey along with them,” she said.

After retreats her attendees would ask her what was next. With that, she decided to do 1-on-1 individual coaching and group coaching. This also led to her husband, Steven, joining her to add the element of business coaching for some clients. She said during the COVID-19 crisis she has had more people reaching out for help and guidance.

Although the pandemic has caused one event to be canceled and another rescheduled, the business continues. This summer they will be having a co-ed retreat on the Salmon River. “We actually hope to get some more international retreats,” Amy said of her plans for the future.

Being an entrepreneur was something that Amy feels has been in her blood. She comes from a family of entrepreneurs and she felt the concept of working for someone else was foreign. This has helped set up her mindset for self-employment. Her optimism helped move her husband to self-employment. Be sure to listen to the show to hear her story of Nutella and graham crackers.

Amy's advice to those considering self-employment is, “If you have any pull or any idea, do it. Take the messy action and take the risk. You can have any life you want -- you just have to do the work that comes with it. You're never going to feel ready, you're never going to feel qualified.”

Amy has created a course called A Guide to Intuitive Living, A Soul-Centered Life, and will be launching it in July. This will include pods of group coaching that she will personally take through the course. Follow her on Instagram for more information on how to enroll.


For more information on retreats, events, and more go to or at
Follow Amy on Instagram at

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

INL researcher selected for DOE Early Career Research Program

Dr. Paul Humrickhouse
An Idaho National Laboratory scientist engaged in nuclear fusion research has been selected to participate in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Early Career Research Program.

Dr. Paul Humrickhouse, INL’s Fusion Safety Program lead, is one of 76 scientists from around the nation – 50 from universities and 26 from national laboratories – to be selected. Under the program, run by the DOE Office of Science and now in its 11th year, researchers at DOE national laboratories receive grants of at least $500,000 per year. The grants extend over five years and are intended to provide support to exceptional researchers during their crucial early career years, when many do their most formative and groundbreaking work.

“We are immensely proud to see Dr. Humrickhouse achieve this distinction,” said Dr. Marianne Walck, INL’s chief research officer and deputy laboratory director for Science & Technology. “This is a fine reflection of INL’s reputation in the world of peer-reviewed research. It points not only to significant accomplishments already achieved, but discoveries that have the potential to change the world.”

Humrickhouse received his doctorate in nuclear engineering and engineering physics from the University of Wisconsin in 2009. He came to INL as a postdoctoral researcher that year, then joined the staff. His research has involved computational modeling and analysis of fission and fusion systems.

In any fusion reactor, plasma is surrounded by a blanket filled with lithium compounds whose purpose is to produce tritium, an isotope of hydrogen, for reuse as fuel. Computational modeling helps researchers predict fluid flow and heat transfer in the high-radiation environment. Using the Multiphysics Object-Oriented Simulation Environment (MOOSE) – an open source simulation platform developed at INL – Humrickhouse intends to focus on the influence of high magnetic fields and material structure on tritium transport by coupling to other physics models and simulation tools. This should lead to safety evaluations necessary for the realization of fusion energy.

To be eligible for the DOE award, a researcher must be an untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professor at a U.S. academic institution or a full-time employee at a DOE national laboratory, who received a Ph.D. within the past 10 years. Research topics are required to fall within one of the DOE Office of Science's six major program offices:

• Advanced Scientific Computing Research
• Basic Energy Sciences
• Biological and Environmental Research
• Fusion Energy Sciences
• High Energy Physics
• Nuclear Physics

Awardees are selected based on peer review by outside scientific experts. The details for each project award are subject to final grant and contract negotiations between DOE and the awardees. A full list of winners is available here:

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Supporting Business & Strengthening Lives | Cordell Pickering, Pick PT Physical Therapy, Apex Fitness and Performance

Cordell Pickering
Cordell Pickering always knew he wanted to be a physical therapist, but he also knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. “When I was 16 years old I did an English report where our teacher told us to find a profession we were interested in. The projections showed that physical therapy was a good profession,” he said.

Pickering chose Pick PT as the name for several reasons, not just because of his last name, but because he wants patients to pick PT before narcotics, especially for back injury. “The motto of our company is ‘Live Life Moving.' The evidence for treating people with back pain is movement,” he said.

He chose Rexburg to open his practice because of his training in spine therapy. There was a physician's office that was interested in working with him to rehab their spine patents, so Rexburg was a good fit. Cordell also is trained in vestibular therapy, working with local ENT's on patients with inner ear problems.

His physical therapy practice has expanded to Idaho Falls and is performed out of his second business, Apex Fitness and Performance. “Here it's different, there are two evaluation rooms and a huge gym,” he said. “A big issue in the PT world is that patients don't get stressed enough. A lot of issues are an endurance issue in their spine. It's definitely a different type of gym, but I've really enjoyed it.” His plans are to spend more time in Idaho Falls treating patients than he has in the past and growing his practice in both cities.

Pickering comes from a family that has had several different businesses. He has always known that owning a business would be a part of his life. “A lot of physical therapists aren't interested in doing to the business side of things. For me, it really comes down to how I grew up. I grew up in an environment of being with a business family. Talking about business on Sunday is not an uncommon thing,” he said.

He has had his own experience with back pain and in treating his family for their back pain, related to the type of the blue-collar work they have all done. He feels that makes him more relatable to his patients.

The gym focuses on performance and helping athletes achieve their peak performance. During the coronavirus pandemic, Pickering has started a Facebook group called Stand Up to COVID-19 Support East Idaho Local Business. “The reason that I started this group is that when COVID started I noticed that there were a lot of business owners who were confused and stressed out and they didn't know what to do. When I started the group it grew pretty quick. I created the group to try to bring good information and provide a platform for business owners to advertise and community members to support them,” he said.

The future of the group is to keep it open and active as a way to support East Idaho business. “The thing that is going to make the group the most effective is the number of members. I'm hoping to increase the group and keep it going after COVID-19,” he said. All businesses are allowed to post on the group up to twice per week.

Having opened his businesses during a very difficult time, Pickering has had to rely on his optimism. “I try not to get discouraged," he said. "I think every business owner probably had a little stress headache the first couple of weeks when everything was getting shut down. For me, I take it as there is nothing I can do about the situation and I can't change any laws. All I can do is be optimistic and helpful.” He feels this will be the key to his success in the future -- to be helpful to the community.


For more information on Pick PT, visit the website at To learn more about Apex Fitness and Performance visit

Please join the Stand Up to COVID-19 – Support East Idaho Business Facebook group at

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

University of Idaho launching cybersecurity degree program

The University of Idaho College of Engineering is launching Idaho's first bachelor's degree program in cybersecurity, open to students this fall.

With more than 75 billion internet-connected devices expected worldwide by 2025, cybersecurity
professionals are essential to protecting Idaho’s computing systems, networks and critical
infrastructure. A study conducted for the nonprofit Center for Cyber Safety and Education estimates there will be 1.8 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs globally by 2022.

“The University of Idaho has long been a leader in cybersecurity research through partnerships with industry and government that date back more than two decades,” U of I President Scott Green said. “The addition of the state’s first bachelor’s degree program in cybersecurity continues that trend. Our students are already in high demand, and this new cybersecurity program will provide a focused curriculum that will further arm them with the crucial skills needed to protect our digital infrastructure.”

As one of the National Security Agency’s first seven National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense, U of I is a leader in advanced cybersecurity education and research, spanning more than two decades.

Students have access to the College of Engineering’s global network of leading industry partners, including Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL), Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Power, POWER Engineers and Avista Utilities. Global power systems protection leader SEL and the College of Engineering began a $2.5 million partnership in April. The five-year agreement will support the cybersecurity program through ongoing research projects and faculty and graduate student assistance.

With support from the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the College of Engineering developed a distributed testbed connecting cyberattack response research infrastructure in Moscow, Idaho Falls and Coeur d’Alene.

Work is being done to build a network between U of I’s Reconfigurable Attack-Defend Instructional Computing Laboratories in Idaho Falls and Moscow to allow students to simulate cyberattack and defense protocols within isolated labs.

Since 2002, the U of I Center for Secure and Dependable Systems has awarded nearly
$9 million in undergraduate tuition to students participating in the  CyberCorps:
Scholarship for Service (SFS)  program. Funded through the National Science Foundation, the SFS program provides tuition stipends of up to $25,000 for an undergraduate and $34,000 for a graduate student for cybersecurity training for positions at the federal, state, local and tribal levels.

Learn more about this new degree program at

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

What's Your Perfect Product? | Neil & Karen Gwartzman, Private Label University

Neil & Karen Gwartzman, owners of Private Label University
In 1983, Neil Gwartzman dove into the private labeling industry when he joined his father’s brick-and-mortar manufacturing and importing company. After learning the business from the ground up, he committed himself to distill everything he and his father knew into a step-by-step system that could be used to easily and consistently identify, source and private label products for any company in any industry.

Private labeling -- also called “white labeling” or “product branding” -- involves finding an existing physical product that your clients are shopping for and then putting your brand on it. Some high-profile examples include Rachel Ray, George Foreman and Martha Stewart, who have leveraged private label products to build their brands and make extra millions.

Neil taught the system to Karen in 2004, when she was a dental hygienist looking for ways to make extra money. Revenue from her new private label business quickly eclipsed her salary, making it an easy decision to quit the dental industry. She joined Neil in his mission to help entrepreneurs and business owners leverage private label products to scale their companies and increase brand recognition. This is when Private Label University was born.

“What products do is complement and bring loyalty to those customers to keep coming back into their business. It also can act as an accessory to help the client move to the next level,” Karen said. “It's bringing in an extra revenue stream.” The Gwartzmans provide direction in determining what the perfect product is for a business. The idea is to build a brand that is cohesive with business and complement it with a product.

One of the most challenging things for service-based businesses is to stand out. The Gwartzmans have found that adding a product to a business can set your business apart. Your clients trust you and they trust products that you recommend, so when you have a private product they can purchase and use on your recommendation it's a win-win.

This isn't a new idea, private labeling products has been happening for decades. Karen and Neil believe their system has simplified the process so that anyone could do it. “Years ago it was a secret. You were not allowed to share what you were doing,” Karen said. They both felt drawn to share the secrets and help business owners create products on their own. In doing this they have had some blowback in their industry, but they continued to feel drawn to help others. “Why should there be a monopoly of stores or companies that have access to this information? We need to be sharing it,” Karen said.

The Gwartzmans travel to China annually for the Canton Fair and take any students who are interested along with them to learn about the business and experience the products first hand. Since the April fair was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the trip is now planned for October. Attending the product fair is not necessary. It can be done remotely, but takes more time. Investments in creating a product can range in cost, but starting small and proving sales is usually the starting point. “Building the relationships correctly with suppliers is important,” Karen said.

Neil knew from a young age that this was the work he wanted to do. He enjoyed seeing products from all over the world and helping the family business. They both recommend learning from mentors as you are looking to follow your passions. “Mentors -- years ago we didn't understand what a mentor was. I should have listened, that mentoring would have gotten me to a faster position to doing what I wanted to do,” Karen said.

When adding a product to an existing business they feel that the risk is low. “We aren't saying give up what you do, just complement it or add to it. Add a revenue source,” Karen said, “You should be able to make money every single day.”


For more information on creating a private label product yourself go to

Fall River Electric holds first virtual annual meeting

Fall River Electric Cooperative’s annual meeting of members was conducted virtually for the first-time ever in the co-op’s 82-year history. This was because of a decision made by the board of directors to safeguard the members and staff from effects of the coronavirus. Owner-members cast their votes via online, mail-in and in-person to select representatives for three board positions from a total of seven candidates. Despite not holding their traditional in-person annual event, a record setting number of 2,427 ballots were cast this year, which represents nearly 20% percent of the total number of eligible voters.

Incumbents Georg Behrens in District 3 (East Victor), Jay Hanson in District 2 (West Victor) and Jeff Keay in District 8 (Northern Island Park) were all re-elected for new three-year terms beginning this month.

Voters overwhelming approved a number of minor changes to the co-op’s bylaws but nearly split evenly on how board members should be elected in the future. The ballot had provided for an advisory vote as to whether to retain the current plurality voting method for directors or put to a member vote next year the option of requiring a candidate to win by a majority of votes. Owner-members voted to retain the current plurality method by a vote of 1,264 versus a switch to the majority method with 1,087 votes.

The traditional business meeting, which included the announcement of over 30 scholarship
awards, a report on the co-op’s financial audit as well as a management report from
CEO/General Manager Bryan Case, was held online and can be viewed on the cooperative’s
website under the heading of Video News on the home page.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Celebration planned for Johnson Bros. owner David Sargis

Johnson Brothers will be hosting a celebration to mark 50 years of leadership under owner David Sargis. The public event will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday, June 15, at the company's showroom at 233 Basalt Street in downtown Idaho Falls.

During his tenure, Sargis has guided the company through many challenges, including a fire in 2004 that destroyed much of its manufacturing facility in 2004, to expansion into the Treasure Valley, where they recently opened a new, expanded showroom.

"No matter what gets thrown in front of him, David has a way of reading the situation and establishing the best path forward," said company co-owner Chris Sargis. "His steady hand has
definitely benefitted the business over the long-term."

Founded in 1905, Johnson Brothers provides builders and homeowners with architectural casework, windows, doors, and quality millwork. For homes and businesses alike, it is known throughout the Intermountain West as a go-to establishment for custom-made details. David Sargis has been at the helm since 1970, nearly half of the company's 115-year history.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Home sales remain steady in Bonneville County

The numbers haven't been posted yet for May, but looking at sales statistics from the Snake River Multiple Listing Service for the first four months of this year shows clearly that the COVID-19 pandemic has had no effect on the market for residential properties in Bonneville County.

The number of units sold was up 3.7%, while the number of new listings rose 7.3%. Homes spent an average of 45 days on the market, the same as in 2019. Median price rose 11.7%, from $204,237 to $228,234.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Coffee and Business | Chip Langerak, Villa Coffeehouse

Chip Langerak
Becoming a business broker wasn't what Chip Langerak saw himself doing, but joining Arthur Berry & Co. four years ago allowed him the opportunity to help business owners sell their businesses and move into retirement. “Building the package, marketing the business, fielding the questions, pitching it to people, that's my specialty,” he explained.

In looking at what the coronavirus pandemic has done to businesses who are ready to sell Langerak says we have to see what happens going forward. “It won't have a huge impact on business evaluation unless it effects your business beyond now. Some businesses have been propped up by a vibrant economy.”

Langerak and his wife, Alexis, own The Villa Coffeehouse in downtown Idaho Falls (with another location in the lobby of Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center) and have been directly impacted by the pandemic. “We will survive. It may put us behind but we'll survive,” he said

When advising business owners who are looking to sell he suggests that at least three years prior the business owner should be thinking about the sale and what needs to be put in order to get the highest valuation. “The financials of a business are that business' curb appeal,” he said. About half the buyers he encounters are coming here from out of state. They are looking at financials, which means a business owner needs the financials to look as good as possible.

Asked what the number one mistake business owners make, he said, “I see not enough detail in financial reporting.”

The Langeraks have owned The Villa for eight years. Chip describes his wife as “the perfect operator” and attributes any success of The Villa to her.

“What drew us to The Villa was a love for the place. Ultimately we asked ourselves the question of is this something we could do for several years, and we knew it was,” he said. So many in the restaurant industry are focused on turning around tables but at The Villa they are happy to provide a space for people to spend time and feel comfortable. “It's built around the idea of community, and that's the part that's rewarding and we love about being here,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a dramatic decrease in sales. “The advice I would give to anyone in this position right now is adapt and adapt quickly and consider that change to be permanent,” he said. One of the adaptations they have implemented is a delivery service to Idaho Falls and Ammon.

Langerak admits to feelings of self-doubt, and thinks it's a common thing with business owners. “I think some of that comes from making entrepreneurship sound sexy,” he said. “We have to shift that thinking. We have to realize that those that are successful are closer to us that we realize. We are closer to that success than we know.”

A couple of thoughts he has for all business owners is to be thinking about their businesses and how they will transition no matter where they are. Start that process earlier than you need to. The second thing is to ignore the naysayers but don't let anyone talk you out of something that will bring you joy.

For more information on Arthur Berry and Co go to their site
For more information on The Villa Coffeehouse visit their site at Remember, free delivery on orders over $10.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Financial institutions pool resources to purchase masks for frontline workers

Bank of Idaho CEO Jeff Newgard
In a demonstration of community solidarity, three eastern Idaho financial institutions have teamed up to buy protective masks for medical workers and other people on the front lines in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bank of Idaho, Bank of Commerce and Teton Wealth Management on May 20 distributed masks to Idaho Falls Community Hospital, Development Workshop, and 10 other non-profit organizations.

Jeff Newgard, Bank of Idaho's CEO and president, had the idea of pulling together financial management firms and community banks to pool resources and purchase a significant number of masks. Teaming up would mean more buying power and more masks for the community, he said. Newgard asked Tom Romrell, Bank of Commerce's president and CEO, and Jacob Murray of Teton Wealth Management, and they readily agreed.

“Now is an incredible opportunity to lead in the spirit of kindness and generosity,” Newgard said. “I appreciate Mr. Tom Romrell and Mr. Jake Murray for coming together and really focusing on what matters.”

Casey Jackman, chief operations officer at IFCH, said the donations were much appreciated. “These masks will go far in our mission of keeping our front-line workers, patients and visitors safe. Thank you so much for thinking of us and caring for our community,” he said.

McKayla Matlock, Development Workshop's CEO, was equally appreciative. "Safety takes every person, and with the importance of keeping safe these community partnerships have made a real difference for us.”

In addition to mask, Bank of Idaho’s Community Commitment Fund has allocated more than $44,000 of the $60,000 it has collected to emergency non-profit needs within the community. The Bank of Commerce gives to over 300 non-profit organizations each year, averaging over $160,000 per year over the past three years.

If your organization is in need of medical masks or funding, contact Bank of Idaho's director of marketing, Tyler Kraupp at 208-524-5500 or email at or Holly Gyles, Bank of Commerce's director of marketing at or at 208-525-9105

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

To Pluto and Beyond: Work that reaches the stars

Jon Bradley (left), Bob Gomez (center) and Courtney Swassing are all Idaho natives who are proud to be part of Idaho National Laboratory’s work to assemble and test the power system for the upcoming Mars 2020 mission, which will launch this summer.
By Jeff Pinkham
For INL Communications and Outreach

They’ve stayed in the same spot for more than a decade, but their work has traveled to Pluto and beyond, and landed on the surface of Mars.

Bob Gomez, Courtney Swassing and Jon Bradley have spent most of their Idaho National Laboratory (INL) careers in the Space and Security Power Systems group, which assembles and tests Radioisotope Power Systems such as Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (MMRTG) and other Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) for use in remote and harsh environments, principally space.

Gomez and Bradley have been part of the program since the beginning, when it was moved from Mound Laboratories in Ohio to INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex (MFC) in the early 2000s. Swassing joined the team in 2007.

They each came on board at different times and had different motivations for joining the group, but all said there’s nothing they’d rather do.

“There’s pressure because you know it has to power a $2 billion space mission,” Gomez said. “But it’s so cool to be part of this.”

Bradley grew up in Shelley and knew the lab was a good place to work when he started as a temporary employee in the mailroom.

“It was a job,” Bradley said. “It was a foot in the door.”

The longer he stayed, the more he realized there were opportunities behind other doors at MFC. He spent 12 years in materials handling before he took a job as an operator with the Space and Security Power Systems group in 2004. He was an operator and then technical lead until 2016, when he became shift supervisor – his current role.

Gomez grew up in the Boise area and was serving what would become a nine-year stint in the U.S. Navy when he heard about the historic safety tests performed at Idaho’s Experimental Breeder Reactor-II in 1985.

“I thought, ‘this is a place I want to work,’” Gomez said.

He joined what is now INL in 1994 as a hot cell operator at the Fuel Conditioning Facility. He began working on space power systems in 2004, and outside of a short time as a shift supervisor at other facilities, he’s been with the group since. He has served in a variety of roles, from foreman to shift supervisor to now nuclear facilities manager.

Bradley and Gomez were part of the team that assembled and tested the first space power system at INL, for use on the 2006 Pluto New Horizons mission. It was an exciting, and stressful time. In roughly two and half years, a small group led by Director Steve Johnson had to build a facility, put together a staff, and then assemble and test an RTG. The facility was finished in September 2004, and the power system was shipped to Florida around Halloween in 2005.

It was an amazingly tight deadline, but New Horizons launched on schedule in January 2006.
“There was significant overtime and a lot of nervousness,” Gomez said. “We were doing this for the first time so we were kind of self-taught.”

Swassing is the “new” guy of the trio. The Pocatello native started working on space power systems in 2007 as an operator before becoming a technical lead. He will soon qualify as a shift supervisor.

He missed the first power system build, but has been closely involved in assembly and testing of the MMRTG for the Mars Curiosity rover in 2012 and the current Mars 2020 mission, another rover that will explore the Red Planet.

Because there is a long gap between missions, the team spends a lot of time training. They study the procedures to ensure they are optimal, and practice the various steps of assembly and testing so their actions become second nature.

“The training process can wear on you,” Bradley said. “We can get on each other’s nerves and it can get tedious. But Operations, Engineering and Quality Assurance are all training together. It’s not someone telling us what to do. That’s the cool part.”

But there’s a big difference between practice and the real thing.

Swassing said when he first joined the team, he was told that working with hot fuel is a unique challenge that can’t be replicated in training. The internal temperature of the MMRTG fuel reaches 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, and it takes special equipment and an attention to detail to work with safely.

“I was thinking, ‘It can’t be that hot,’” Swassing said. “Then when I first worked with it, I was like, ‘This is HOT. Now I know why they told me that.’”

Once that hurdle is overcome, much of the work done by Bradley, Gomez, Swassing and the other members of the team has remained the same. The power system is a fairly simple device that needs no moving parts to turn heat from the decay of Plutonium-238 into electricity using thermocouples.

The process is well-defined and the task at hand is well-understood by all. That doesn’t mean problems don’t arise from time to time.

“They’re all built to the same specs, but each has presented its own set of issues and obstacles,” Gomez said. “It certainly isn’t easy or boring.”

How could it be? The result of their hard work is exploring the surface of Mars and traveling to Pluto and beyond – places never visited by man-made objects. Work on the latest MMRTG is nearing completion with an expected launch in late July or early August. There are still long days and plenty of stress before it reaches Mars. But to these guys, it’s all worth it.

“It’s so rewarding to know you’re one of a handful of people who had their hands on something that goes to space,” Bradley said. “That’s pretty cool.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

An Escape From Reality | Larry & Debbie Fisher, Black Swan Inn, Destinations Inn

Larry and Debbie Fisher
The Black Swan Inn in Pocatello and Destinations Inn in Idaho Falls are themed hotels created primarily for couples. With a career established already as a custom home builder, their owner, Larry Fisher, never thought he'd be in involved in the field, but fate decreed otherwise.

“I've always enjoyed building things,” he said. As owner of Fisher Construction, he was very involved in all aspects of the building and creating his customer's dream home.

“Having a hotel or having theme rooms wasn't in my future, that I knew of anyway,” he said. It was his sister who piqued his interest in creating theme rooms after she convinced him to visit a hotel in Logan, Utah.

“Building custom homes you get into custom woodworking, but you could never get into really detailed extravagant things. I thought if we built one of these (hotels) we could do all these unique things and try things out. I thought it sounded fun and exciting,” he said.

This inspired him to start looking around to see where he could put his dream into action. The current building where the Black Swan Inn is caught his eye. “One of my sayings is, you find what you are looking for,” he said. He had to convince the owners to sell the building. After some negotiation, he was able to buy the building and started planning.

Having never owned a hotel before, he reached out to the owners of the theme hotel in Logan to see if they would be interested in a partnership. Initially, they turned Fisher down, but after a week they reached out and decided they'd like to be a part of it. They were partners for five years before the Fisher and his wife, Debbie, bought them out in 2001. Fisher feels like that was the key to success for them to start out strong.

They built the rooms in phases with the Cave Room being the first. Fisher credits Debbie and their partners with the creative ideas, explaining that he is more the “hands-on” person. “In the Mayan Rain Forest there is a treehouse and the jetted tub is in the treehouse,” he said. “Nowadays it's easy to find ideas, you can look on the Internet. Back then, we had to go to the library.”

Visiting Las Vegas and soaking up the creativity there also helped them envision and craft ideas. They have also had individuals enter their lives at different times who have brought skills that have helped them create their visions.

Not wanting to turn the hotel over to someone to manage it, Fisher decided he needed to back off from his construction company and manage the inn full-time. They worked with the city of Pocatello and they were able to open each room as it was completed. Fisher said it was immediately successful. “I love interacting with people, I'd love to just work at the front desk. I've made some great relationships with people,” he said.

Destinations Inn was purchased in 2010 as an existing themed room hotel and was the perfect compliment to The Black Swan Inn and the Fishers' vision.

Over the years Fisher has received many ‘thank you's'. “There is something psychological about it, when you go into these themed rooms you feel like you are 1,000 miles away,” he said. “The way I look at it, a night at The Black Swan Inn costs about as much as a therapy session and it's a lot more fun.”

Fisher recognizes that it takes the couples to do the work on their relationships but the hotels provide a space for connection to happen and he's happy to be a part of that.

The hotel has employed all of the Fishers' six children over the years, and two of them continue to work in the business, with ideas of taking it over in the future. “I'm trying to free up some time so I can travel more and bring back ideas,” Fisher said. He remains very involved in day-to-day operations, especially where it comes to the construction aspects.

Fisher is also very involved in the community. He feels that social networking is very important to the business and being active in the community helps your business. “It's an honor and a pleasure to be a part of these different things,” he said. Having just had a close friend pass away he advises, “Don't take your relationships for granted. Love what you do and love the people around you. Don't take advantage of people. Spend the time with the people you love.”


For more information on The Black Swan Inn visit their site at For more information on Destinations Inn visit their site at

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Diabla's Kitchen plans move to old Westbank property

Renovation work inside the old Westbank Restaurant.
Diabla's Kitchen, an A Street mainstay for several years, is moving into much roomier digs, as owner Deana Bowles Brower and company are renovating the old Westbank Restaurant property on River Parkway. In a recent Facebook post, Brower said they are eyeing an opening in June, possibly Father's Day weekend. In the meantime, they are carrying on with takeout food from their location at 368 A Street. A seafood fest is also planned for Saturday and Sunday, although seating will be very limited due to community coronavirus concerns. Details can be found here.

As for the new location, this is a welcome development for a property that has been vacant since August 2014. That was when owner Dane Watkins closed it in a dispute with Om Shiv Ganesh, the financially troubled company that was running the nearby tower. Watkins had been leasing the restaurant and convention center to Om Shiv Ganesh, but when the hotel's owner, Idaho Hotel Holdings, filed a default judgment for more than $3.4 million and the tower went into receivership he decided he would shut the restaurant down and look for a new buyer or operator.

The tower was sold at auction in January 2015 for a reported $2.3 million. Various attempts have been made to reopen the restaurant, lounge and convention center.

The Westbank itself dates back to 1928, when Ferris Clark, son of Mayor Barzilla W. Clark, built two log buildings by the Snake River to accommodate motorists on their way to Yellowstone National Park. Over 52 years, Clark expanded with a red brick motel, then a restaurant and lounge, then more motel rooms. He retired in 1980 and died in 1987 at age 79.

After Clark left, the property went by different names, including Red Lion and finally the Hotel on the Falls. It was owned by Jim and Sharon Bennett and Robert and Sharon Paulus, the children of Olga Gustafson Rigby, who had taken over after Clark’s death. In 2012, however, the hotel was deeded to trusts set up by the families while Watkins bought the motel, restaurant, lounge and convention center.
An old postcard from the '60s, when the restaurant and lounge were added.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

EIRMC names assistant chief nursing officer

Jami Lieber
Jami Lieber has been named assistant chief nursing officer at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. In this role, Lieber will work with the chief nursing officer to oversee clinical nursing operations throughout the hospital, ensure quality patient care and lead efforts to increase patient satisfaction. Lieber recently served as administrative director of medical surgical services, as well as administrative director of cardiovascular and imaging services, at Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas. Prior to her tenure at Southern Hills, Lieber oversaw cardiovascular services at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals for 14 years. Lieber holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from University of Nevada Las Vegas and a master’s degree in business administration from Roseman University.