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Growing Business in the Basin

Ambitious new facility expands USU’s academic, research,
and innovation reach in the state.




by Jacoba Poppleton


When classes resume on the USU Uintah Basin campus in Vernal, Utah this August, students, faculty and staff, as well as a group of entrepreneurs, will have a new, multi-functional home in the Bingham Entrepreneurship and Energy Research Center, the flagship building for the Uintah Basin campus. Scheduled for completion and occupancy in August 2010, the 70,000 sq. ft. building is cutting-edge in its construction, as well as in its vision and purpose.


“We’ve been creating the vision for six years,” said Robert Behunin, special assistant to the president at USU, whose role is to bolster economic development in the Uintah Basin. He has led the fundraising efforts and has been masterfully successful.


In 2006, Utah State University and the Uintah Basin Applied Technology Center began working on a plan that merges the two entities and creates a regional USU campus in Vernal. Following a land donation by Bob Williams of 138 acres, a gift valued at $5 million, plans commenced to construct a building that will bridge the gap between university and vocational training and combine the missions of both USU and UBATC.


Robert Behunin
USU Uintah Basin

In October 2007, a gift of $15 million by Marc and Debbie Bingham made it possible to build an entrepreneurial and research center on the newly-created USU campus. The Bingham Entrepreneurship and Energy Research Center will be a fully-functional space for each of the three groups—student support, research, and business—it is designed to support. The building will house 11 classrooms equipped with interactive video capabilities necessary for the USU distance education program. This academic wing of the BEERC also will house student support services including registration, advising and academic administration.


Additionally, the Bingham Entrepreneurship wing of the Center will host entrepreneurs who wish to incubate their business endeavors in the BEERC entrepreneurial station. Like other incubation stations including the eStations found on USU’s Innovation Campus in Logan, the Davis Applied Technology College in Ogden, and the Simmons Entrepreneur Center in Kaysville, the business incubator at BEERC is designed to grow young companies into successful businesses through shared facilities, equipment, and mentorship opportunities. In addition to the incubation space in the Bingham wing, residents of the Uintah Basin will be able to rent office space for their already-existing companies.


“We’re growing business,” said Behunin. “The entrepreneurship wing of the Center will function as a professional space for beginning and established companies in the Uintah Basin area. By marrying the mission of USU to the mission of the UBATC and to the Bingham’s vision for entrepreneurial expansion, we feel that this building can support the people of the community who have been so generous in supporting the creation of the BEERC.”


“We’ve received tremendous support from the Uintah County community,” said Behunin. “They have always been receptive to the idea of ‘innovating and expanding the community’ and creating a place for education and entrepreneurship in the area. It’s a long-term investment.” These investments for the future of the Uintah Basin, the state of Utah and the nation are certain to pay dividends.


Students and faculty, in partnership with the Idaho National Laboratory and the Energy Dynamics Lab, of USU’s Research Foundation, will study energy components to merge renewable—wind and biofuels—and nonrenewable—fossil—fuels.


Additionally, INL and EDL will also be involved in researching unconventional fuel, including oil shale, a resource that is widely available in the Uintah Basin area.


“The research that will be conducted in the Uintah Basin’s BEERC fits the needs of the industry and of government agencies in the area,” said Behunin. “In 2008, Congress finalized a multi-year study of the Western Energy Corridor and identified the availability of energy resources in the area, including fossil fuels, unconventional fossil fuels and renewable energy. The strength of Uintah Basin is unconventional fossil fuels, such as oil shale. In the Uintah Basin, trillions of barrels of oil are locked in rock; that’s more oil than in Saudi Arabia. We just have to learn how to better extract it and utilize it.”


Three types of research labs will be housed in the building’s research wing. In addition to an environmental lab to study water, soil, and mineral extraction within the Basin, energy researchers will occupy labs designed for hybrid energy and unconventional fuels research.


Building on the area’s strengths is what the BEERC is designed to do. It’s about using the available resources to make something better—for everyone. 

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Sidebar: Energy Promises Business Opportunities in Uintah Basin