Kang I. Seo, associate professor at ODU, shows off a Supersonic Jet Molecular Beam System at the new research center in Newport News.

BP Pays $48 Billion for a Center for Innovation

Facility to bring up to $2 million in research funds over 5 years

Three months ago, the only sound you'd hear on a walk through the new Applied Research Center was the echo of your own footsteps. Lately though, the center's laboratories have been buzzing with researchers and at least the promise of profits as those researchers' endeavors trickle into the commercial world in coming years.

Apparently, the state's Center for Innovative Technology likes what it's hearing at the ARC, as it's also known.

On Tuesday, CIT, along with former Newport News Mayor Barry E. DuVal, who's now state secretary of commerce and trade, tapped the ARC to house a new "innovation center," to be called the Center for Plasma and Photon Processing.

Hampton Roads bested nearly a dozen locations across the state in being selected to host the center, which is expected to be operational next month. The selection means that $1 million to $2 million in state funds will flow into the center over the next five years.

Businesses will go through the center to use the advanced, expensive equipment at the ARC and nearby Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. They'll also be able to draw upon the expertise of the complex's scientists, assist in new technology applications and share in spin-off technologies developed there.

The center is expected to find technical solutions to making faster semiconductors, improving smart cards, developing advanced sensors and other applications. Promoters say it will have a big impact on the aerospace, automotive, marine and semiconductor industries - and in the process, benefit area businesses that partner with the center to find and market those technical solutions.

Businesses and regional groups called for the creation of such centers in "Virginia's Blueprint for Technology-based Economic Growth," said Robert G. Templin Jr., president of CIT. The blueprint, a document devised by CIT, industry, education and political leaders, outlines steps Virginia should take to capitalize on its technology assets.

Eleven of 13 "first-generation" technology centers, funded by the state since 1986, exist today. In 1996, six centers generated 17 spin-off companies, more than 700 jobs and nearly $50 million in revenues and capital for their partner companies, according to CIT.

"I ask us to remember, it takes about a decade for these technologies to see significant commercial payoffs," Templin told a gathering at the ARC for the announcement.

The Center for Plasma and Photon Processing is one of three second-generation centers to be announced this month. It is a partnership between the ARC, Christopher Newport University, Jefferson Lab, Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, the College of William and Mary, and Virginia Tech.

Last week, CIT and the state unveiled the 21st Century Manufacturing Innovation Center, located at James Madison University in Harrisonburg. Thursday, at CIT, headquarters in Herndon, officials will announce the third new innovation center. Each of three new centers will receive between $1 million and $2 million in state funds over the next five years.

Templin said he isn't aware of another state that's putting as much energy and money into boosting technology, but said the innovation centers are only part of a plan to "leapfrog" other states in high-tech competitiveness.

"It's going to take multiple strategies to get that to happen," Templin said.