ASU Polytechnic

ASU Polytechnic

Photo courtesy of ASU

University officials and representatives of the private sector gathered Friday at ASU Polytechnic in east Mesa to launch a new research facility pairing Arizona State University with the aerospace and defense industries.

The Aerospace and Defense Research Collaboratory (ADRC) lets state universities partner with companies.

“The primary objective of the project is to help enhance the aerospace and defense sector,” said Mitzi Montoya, co-director of the ADRC and the executive dean of the College of Technology and Innovation at ASU.

The effort came to life after funding was secured from Science Foundation Arizona. The group gave the ADRC an initial grant of $1 million.

“(The grant) required matching funds. It will also come federal grants and industry sponsored research,” Montoya said.

The public-private partnership is part of the Security and Defense Systems Initiative (SDSI), of which ASU is a part.

Several partners join ASU in the endeavor: Both the University of Arizona and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University are involved, while Northern Arizona University is expected to join later.

Alion Science and Technology, Honeywell International and General Atomics are several of the private sector partners also incorporated to the partnership.

The effort will involve projects in three main areas: machine-to-machine/human-to-machine, visualization simulation and modeling, and information assurance.

“It covers the gamut from aerospace to defense security and aircrafts,” Montoya said.

While they are just breaking ground, Werner Dahm, an ADRC co-director and director of the initiative at ASU. said they are wasting no time.

“We have an initial set of projects, but the focus is on the broader areas we will be working on in the long run. Things like cybersystems, adaptable autonomous systems, advance material developments, research thrust areas,” Dahm said.

Those involved with the effort talked a lot about the positive impact it will have on Arizona’s economy.

“I think 10 years from now there will be this national visibility as a result of the SDSI and a lot more (aerospace and defense) companies locating parts of their activities to Arizona,” Dahm said.

The sector plays a large role in the state’s economy: The military employs 96,000 people statewide in both the active and reserve guards. They pay $400 million in taxes annually and have a $9.12 billion annual impact on the economy.

The same can be said for defense contractors. Currently, there are 37 different companies in the state that provide 94,000 jobs. These workers bring in $300 million in taxes per year, while their economic impact is $8.8 billion annually.

Partners in the collaboration say it will help the state’s economy be more competitive.

“Arizona is going to be competitive if it works in new ways,” William C. Harris, the president and CEO of Science Foundation Arizona, said in his opening remarks at the launch.

The event was not just a celebration or inauguration: After opening remarks, there were two panel discussions concerning the public-private partnership and the role government should play in helping high-tech industry growth.

The first set of panelists agreed that the public-private partnership is an excellent thing.

Michael J. Drake, Regents’ Professor at UA and director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, called it a “win-win situation.”

Several of the panelists agreed that a partnership between universities and the industry would help companies replenish their pool of employees as the workforce grows older.

Bob Witwer, vice president of aerospace advanced technology at Honeywell International, expressed excitement for the development of ADRC.

“It has the potential to be a one-stop shop for connecting universities and industries,” he said.

Though they acknowledged the potential this program has, the panelists conceded there would be challenges. Among them were dealing with the different viewpoints and goals that each partner brings to the table. Intellectual property rights were also a concern — which ideas belong to which partner?

The second set of panelists fielded questions on the role of government and industry growth. They agreed that things were becoming tougher due to large deficits at both the state and federal level. This stunts how much funding the industry can receive.

“Resources — national and statewide — are a problem right now,” said Frank Ayers the executive vice president and chief academic officer of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Some viewed the industry-government relationship as a partnership.

“Part of our job is also to define threats and opportunities (in national security). Once we do that, the government should prioritize them and we should be ready to solve them,” Ayers said.

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