Gov. Warner to seek $27M for modeling, simulation industry

At a Suffolk center, the governor signs over land that might go toward advancing such research.

SUFFOLK — Ostensibly in town to announce a regional link with the nation's newest high-speed Internet hookup, Gov. Mark R. Warner came bearing gifts Friday.

At the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center — VMASC — on the south shore of the James River, Warner said he would propose $27 million in his 2006 state budget to promote the modeling and simulation industry in Hampton Roads.

"I am not aware of anything in the entire tech field that has as sharp a growth curve as modeling and simulation," said Warner, who's championed Old Dominion University's VMASC throughout his term. "And we're already No. 1 or No. 2 in the whole country. ... We've got this head start, and we need to put the pedal to the metal in terms of investment now."

Warner sees Hampton Roads as in a modeling-and-simulation technology race with Orlando, Fla.

"We want to smoke Orlando," he said to a roomful of laughter.

The $27 million is intended to hire additional faculty and expand research and training programs at the Suffolk center. The appropriation must be approved by the General Assembly when it meets at the beginning of next year.

Warner joined ODU President Roseann Runte in announcing the university's linkup with the National LambdaRail. That's a fast, high-capacity Internet system linked to research universities, laboratories and corporations.

"It can transmit 4,500 volumes of encyclopedias in one second, or 1.2 million songs in one minute," Runte said, illustrating the capability of the LambdaRail.

ODU will join the College of William and Mary, NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Jefferson Lab in Newport News and the Joint Forces Command in a partnership called the Eastern Litewave Internetworking Technological Enterprise, or E-LITE. The group has a five-year contract with Verizon worth about $4.8 million to bring the network to Hampton Roads.

The LambdaRail hookup will enhance operations at VMASC, which is branching out from its origins as a military modeling and simulation partner.

"The piece of this that has been missing is: How do you move this past the military or past the public-sector use to private-sector use?" Warner said. "That's where the public (video) gaming industry comes in. That's where medical modeling and simulation comes in, where transportation comes in. Our challenge is to get enough critical mass here to get venture capitalists ... to invest here."

Warner also signed a memorandum of agreement that might benefit the modeling and simulation industry, by transferring 519 acres of state land — now occupied by Tidewater Community College in Suffolk - to a real estate foundation. Most of the land will be sold to developers, with the proceeds serving as an endowment for the community college, which will move much of its Suffolk campus to Portsmouth in about three years.

Some of the land will be sold to Suffolk, which has agreed to purchase 57 acres to resell to corporations associated with modeling and simulation. The city expects to pay about $6 million for that land, said Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk.

"This is huge," Jones said. "What it means to the region is that it will help support the new economy. We hope that it will rival what the (North Carolina) Research Triangle did for the pharmaceutical industry."

Suffolk's plan is to develop the property as an industrial park for "defense contractors, medical field, gaming industry ... any variety of business that will want to take advantage of the modeling and simulation industry," said Thomas O'Grady, director of the city's Department of Economic Development.