Task Force Aims to Guard Federal Funds State Focuses on Research

State economic-development officials see the federally financed research and development facilities in Virginia as key tools for economic growth, and they're taking new steps to protect and promote them.

The state will set up a task force aimed at retaining federally funded R&D centers such as NASA Langley and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, said Barry Duval, Secretary of Commerce and Trade. "I've recognized the need for R&D access for working with Economic-development prospects," Duval said Wednesday. "This is a jewel in the crown of Virginia that other states don't have."

The state will also create a directory of its R&D centers that will be handed out to businesses that are thinking about moving or relocating into Virginia, or that state representatives meet in their marketing efforts. The directory will list state-supported R&D institutions, such as universities, in addition to federally financed centers. The first edition is supposed to be published next year.

The task force will consist of representatives from each region of Virginia that has federally financed facilities, Duval said. The size of the task force hasn't yet been determined, but Duval hopes to have the panel in place by year's end.

Each region will have its own community-based committee, consisting of public- and private-sector leaders; a representative will be chosen to serve on the statewide task force. The local committees' job will be to educate business and governmental leaders and the public about the importance of the R&D centers, as well as keep an eye on the money flowing to those centers, he said.

That mission is nothing new to the local task force that blossomed when NASA Langley appeared to be in the budget-cutting crosshairs. Duval said he liked that group's work and figured the members could become the "core group" for Hampton Roads' advisory committee.

Duval compared the retention effort to the commission he set up when he was mayor of Newport News, to help protect Fort Eustis amid nationwide base closings. "From my experience as mayor, I've adapted the lesson of preparedness," he said.

Duval made his announcements while leading state economic-development officials on the first day of a two-day tour of federally financed R&D sites around the state.

At the Jefferson Lab, the talk was high-tech - about the power of lasers and the size of microns - but the bottom line was easy to understand: the center could be a draw for high-tech firms considering a location in Virginia.

"When you've got a project dealing with any high-tech manufacturing prospect, give us a call," said Fred Dylla, manager of the Free-Electron Laser program, addressing the group of about 35 officials.

The group visited the naval surface warfare center in Dahlgren earlier Wednesday.

Today, the group is scheduled to visit Nasa Langley and Wallops Island for similar briefings.

Advantage: Virginia

State officials are looking to exploit the advantage that the area's federally financed R&D facilities give Virginia's business recruiters.