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Utah State opens Bingham Center in eastern Utah

Marc Bingham (center) cuts the ribbon marking the official opening of Utah State University's Bingham Entrepreneurship and Energy Research Center in Vernal. He is flanked by his wife, Debbie (right) and Gov. Gary Herbert (left). The Binghams donated $15 million toward construction of the building

Vernal Express reporter

Gov. Gary Herbert formally opened Utah State University's Bingham Entrepreneurship and Energy Research Center in Vernal during a dedication ceremony Friday attended by hundreds of well-wishers.

"This is a time of unprecedented, unlimited possibilities," Herbert said. "Today is a red-letter day for the future of our country's energy independence."

The ribbon-cutting was a long-awaited event, following two years of construction and more than $15 million in contributed funding.

Herbert predicted that the Bingham Center - so nicknamed by the day's speakers - would become a cornerstone of Utah's economic opportunities in the years to come.

"The Bingham Center marks the collaboration of state, community and national leaders in the development of clean energy," the governor said, praising the generosity of local donors Marc and Debbie Bingham and Bob Williams.

The Binghams donated $15 million toward building costs, and Williams provided $5 million worth of land, roads and other infrastructure for the center - a high-tech education and research facility that will train students in business, engineering, natural resources and other programs. Factoring in matching contributions for the building, the entire venture exceeds $40 million.

Four years ago the Binghams also donated land for a new College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum on top of the bluffs southwest of Price. Fundraising efforts to build the new museum are still progressing.

Utah State University President Stan Albrecht said Friday that the Bingham Center already embodies all three of the governor's statewide initiatives.

"This center of education, energy research and economic development will host dignitaries from Estonia, Korea, Canada and Asia ... in the coming weeks," Albrecht said.

The foreign visitors will come to Vernal seeking to address global energy needs, Albrecht told an audience of roughly 200 people that included state and university VIPs, local officials, students and community members.

"This will be the place where we are challenged 'to be and to do something greater,'" added Robert Behunin, special assistant to the president of USU, paraphrasing Bob Williams.

Retired Vice Admiral John Grossenbacher, head of the U.S. Energy Department's Idaho National Laboratory, said the Bingham Center and the laboratory he leads will "partner in multi-disciplinary educational teams to meet and achieve success in energy development here and around the world."

"Sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow," Grossenbacher said, adding that what matters is that "we work as people in partnership with creative programs."

Steven Hawks, interim dean of USU Uintah Basin, said the school's mandate will be sustained "as long as we have a fire in the belly to succeed. That fire, he believes, will come from the energy of those who have chosen to remain in the Basin to live, study and work.

"More and more of your sons and daughters are choosing to stay, learn and live in the Uintah Basin," Hawks said, noting that the average age of the student body is approaching 30 years old, down from a high of 35 years old.

One of the most animated speakers of the day was Marc Bingham, after whom the center is named.

"Life is a challenge for everyone. Win or lose, an education is something that can never be taken away from you," said Bingham, who predicted the center would change the culture of the Basin.

"Higher education creates its own positive energy, positive growth," he said.

With that statement, Bingham handed a giant key labeled "opportunity" to Albrecht as dozens of blue and white balloons were released into a clear blue sky to herald the Bingham Center's formal opening.

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