Idaho

Bringing the Economy Home

HP Laptop Contract Makes Idaho Tech Jobs An Issue In Props 1, 2, 3 Vote

Courtesy Hewlett-Packard

Hewlett-Packard set up shop in Boise decades ago, in 1973.

Idaho’s Students Come First laws are controversial for a lot of reasons.  There are the limits the laws impose on teachers’ unions, and the effects on teachers’ job security.

This week, when Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter announced that Hewlett-Packard has won a $180 million contract to provide computers, maintenance and technical support to every high school student and teacher in Idaho, a new consideration joined the fray: local tech jobs.

Any Boisean can tell you that HP has a long history in Idaho.  This is the home of the HP LaserJet, an iconic printer, as printers go.  By HP’s own estimates, the company employs as many as 4,000 people in the state.  Lately, though, the company’s news hasn’t been good. 

HP CEO Meg Whitman cut earnings expectations early this month, sending the company’s stock price down by nearly 13 percent.  In September, the company expanded an earlier layoff announcement, and said it would cut as many as 29,000 jobs worldwide over the next two years.

So, what does an eight-year, $180 million deal mean for company like HP?  A company that lost nearly $9 billion last quarter?

Von Hansen, an HP vice president and general manager based in Boise, says the contract is significant.  “HP is the largest IT company in the world, but we sell to everyone,” he says.  “Consumers, small businesses, large businesses, state and local governments all over the world, so – this is a very nice business for Hewlett-Packard.” 

In other words: these deals add up.

A $180 million contract isn’t going to make or break a company as big as Hewlett-Packard.  But this is how HP makes money: by selling here and there and everywhere.  And that includes schools.

HP has secured contracts with individual school districts in Washington, Kentucky and North Carolina.  Proving laptops for every public high school student in a state is a little more complicated, though.  And Hansen believes more states may soon follow Idaho’s lead.

Howard Pitler, a senior director with Denver-based education consulting company McREL, isn’t sure how many states are waiting in the wings to implement Idaho-style statewide school technology initiatives.  But he says the push for what education technology-types call one-to-one computing is everywhere.  That is: more and more schools are trying to achieve a one-to-one student-to-laptop ratio.

That makes schools a big market, and it gives a company like HP a good reason to secure contracts and show success.

“What schools are going to be looking for is –  ‘Can HP come in and not only sell us the equipment but then support that equipment and provide us sufficient guidance to help it move forward?’” Pitler explains.

HP and the State of Idaho are touting the contract announced this week as one that’s good for local industry and Idaho students.  But it’s not clear how many jobs the agreement will support.  That’s not information HP likes to give out.  What’s more, the contract isn’t a done deal.  Idahoans will vote yes or no on the three Students Come First laws on November 6.

To hear the audio version of this story, click here.

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