Boise had no Micron Technology Inc., Clearwater Analytics or Cradlepoint in the early 1970s, when Ray Smelek looked over a plot of farmland off Chinden Boulevard.
Smelek, a Hewlett-Packard Co. engineer, liked what he saw. He liked the community, too. In 1973, he persuaded his company to set down roots in the mostly agricultural Treasure Valley.
The site on Chinden became the home of HPs new printer division. The division eventually came up with the laser printer, the companys most successful product. The plant expanded to more than 4,000 employees, though it now employs fewer. With the plant came a highly educated workforce that wanted the best schools. It led to paychecks for thousands of Idahoans who found work in a cutting-edge business.
The decision changed Boise forever, said Ray Stark, senior vice president of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Smelek, who lived in Boise, died Monday.
Smelek displayed a willingness to take risks in bringing the plant to Boise, said Rich Raimondi, who spent 30 years with HP and worked with Smelek for several years.
The Valley wasnt perfect for HP. It was an engineers company, but Idahos only engineering school was six hours to the north in Moscow. Air service to HPs headquarters in northern California was merely adequate.
Smelek, commissioned by HP leaders to find a place to locate the plant, looked at a number of cities in the west including Spokane, Twin Falls and Bozeman. Mont.
He settled on Boise. I think the people had a good work ethic and were trainable to do the jobs we needed, he told the Idaho Statesman in a 2009 interview. He also thought Boise would be good for his family. My children did not want to move, he said. The fact that we could join the country club, we could go skiing at Bogus Basin, water-skiing at Lucky Peak those were all things that were attractive.
But in the formative days for HP, its success wasnt certain.
Former Gov. Cecil Andrus on Wednesday recounted a story when a group of HP officials including co-founder David Packard and Smelek met with him about locating in Boise. Andrus promised a hard-working labor force. I did all the P.R. things I thought would be necessary, Andrus told the Idaho Statesman.
Then Packard asked what kind of incentives Idaho would provide to HP for putting the plant in Boise.
We dont give incentives, Andrus told him.
Other businesses would be paying for HPs incentive and in five years, HP could be paying for someone elses incentive, Andrus told him.
I thought, Andrus, youve probably just blown that, he recalled.
But Packard smiled and said Andrus made sense.
HPs presence led to spinoffs as ex-HP workers founded other tech companies.
Smelek was an inaugural inductee into the Idaho Technology Councils Hall of Fame in 2010.
Idaho simply wouldnt be what it is today if Ray hadnt found what HP needed in Boise, said Jay Larsen, council president. He sowed the seeds of billions of dollars worth of business for a state he was convinced had great potential.
Community members remember Smelek as a mentor and a teacher.
He asked tough questions, the kind that make you squirm a little bit, said Jim Everett, CEO of the Treasure Valley Family YMCA.
Smelek co-chaired a campaign to raise $13 million for the West Boise YMCA during the mid-1990s. In the days before Power Point, Everett put together a slide presentation to win a tech companys support for the Y project. Smelek guided Everett toward a more tech-savvy presentation. He didnt chew us out, Everett recalled, He was kind of a coach.
He was a visionary, Raimondi said. A courageous guy.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts