Building Our Technology Future
When the government announced closings of military bases across the country, states panicked. But Delaware won a unique opportunity: to be part of the largest technology advancement in decades. That means job creation. Welcome to tomorrow.
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Kathleen Matt, dean of the College of Health Sciences and executive director of the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance, says working with the military could fast track developments in healthcare technologies. “The military almost lets you do a futuristic piece,” she says. “I see it as an opportunity to really try to develop technologies that can actually be applied to larger populations to enhance healthcare. It’s a way you can almost ‘leapfrog’ into some of those new technologies.”
Lombardi says there might be opportunities for the university to partner with research entities outside RDECOM, providing those organizations would be allowed to “piggyback” on the cooperative agreement. One possibility is for the university to collaborate with the Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense to work on the prevention and treatment of chemical warfare casualties. This research would draw on the university’s expertise in chemistry.
“That’s a tremendous opportunity for UDel,” Lombardi says. “It really opens up doors we haven’t thought about yet.”
New research initiatives and the civilian applications of defense technologies would likely attract start-up companies desiring to set up shop close to the action, bringing with them jobs. “The CRADA is the first step but a very important one as we move toward developing a technology park at the Chrysler site.” Gillespie says.
Although the university has the advantage of being the closest major research university to APG, it is not the only institution seeking to benefit from BRAC. Reports of a “turf war” between Maryland and Delaware have surfaced—something Lombardi dismisses as nonsense.
“We’re the Army. We make agreements with foreign countries to get various technologies, so we don’t get caught up in that,” he says. “And we truly believe that there’s more need than there are universities.”
Nor does Harker see any need for acrimony. “We know what we’re good at and we’ve been very clear with them,” he says. “The Army is interested in some of the research projects at Delaware State and we encourage this. We want that collaboration.”
Still, having a site with 272 well-positioned acres of open space presents a definite advantage. “The facility is approachable by train and by car,” says Congressman Michael N. Castle, who has been working on BRAC-related issues since the program was announced in 2005. “They can build whatever is necessary in terms of classrooms and labs to accommodate the things they plan to do there. They have room to expand.”
With two years to go before the first shovel breaks ground, no one is predicting how many jobs could be generated from ventures that would eventually locate on the site. But if the Delaware Technology Park in Newark is any indication, the project could be a formidable engine of job creation. Since 1998 the 40-acre site has grown to include 54 companies, generating about 16,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to J. Michael Bowman, CEO of the park.
But that growth will not likely come from a major corporate entity like Chrysler and will occur at a much slower rate. “You have to be patient because you’re dealing with early-stage companies as they grow, so it’s not so much about big anchor guys—although everyone hopes that happens—that’s not usually how (research parks) evolve,” says Bowman. “We’re not casting about for one humongous thing to come in here. We’re looking at, in baseball terms, ‘singles.’”
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The most significant challenge facing the development of the site is the economy. Ironically, the economic slump that eliminated competitors seeking to acquire the site will make capital difficult to obtain. “If employment was back to the good old days of 3 per cent, we’d be hitting a grand slam right now,” says Alan B. Levin, director of the Delaware Economic Development Office. “But universities have the luxury of time.”
Harker says the university needs partners and donors to complete the project, which furthers the school’s core mission as a land-grant institution.
Bowman sees the area evolving into a corridor similar to Route 128, the highway that rings the Boston metropolitan area with high-tech industries, dubbed the Massachusetts Miracle for its positive effects on that region’s growth in the 1980s. “When people think of Delaware, they think of the northern part of the state, but what’s happening in Newark right now is exciting.”