“This is really an opportunity to experiment and it’s an experiment with embedding Wright Brothers Institute and the Air Force Research Laboratory through a partnership in downtown’s emerging entrepreneurial and start-up culture,” Lester McFawn, Wright Brothers Institute executive director, said in an interview. “It’s also an opportunity to experiment with attracting and retaining the next generation workforce that are very much keyed to new ways of working. I’ll call it the work, live, play environment that you see in downtown Dayton.”
A building at 444 E. Second St., once used in a larger way by the University of Dayton Research Institute, is being considered.
“There’s nothing definitive yet,” Helbach said about naming a proposed downtown location.
McFawn said the office is targeted to open this summer.
Talk of opening a downtown presence is growing.
In a LinkedIn essay this week, Jennie Hempstead, graphics innovation lead at the Wright Brothers Institute, said her organization is researching ways to work downtown.
“One proposed solution positions AFRL as the anchor of an innovation district,” Hempstead wrote. “Innovation districts are defined as ‘geographic areas’ where anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators.”
With a $4 billion annual budget, AFRL and its more than 5,700 Ohio employees spend more than $200 million in Ohio, with most of that going to the Dayton region, Helbach said.
Some $12.5 million of that goes to Ohio academia, with about $229 million aimed at small businesses and another $230 million going to industry in the state, according to numbers Helbach presented.
“The Air Force doesn’t produce its own products,” said Emily Fehrman Cory, director of the AFRL Maker Hub. “We rely on manufacturing to do that.”
Helbach encouraged listeners to get their businesses and organizations identified on the website, DaytonTechGuide.com, an Internet haven for local small tech start-ups.
“That’s really going to be the front door for anyone looking to engage with the (Dayton small business) ecosystem,” Helbach said.
Mitch Heaton, vice president of economic development for the Dayton Development Coalition, encouraged the audience to spread the word about AFRL efforts, saying everyone in the room had a development role.
“We’re the connectors,” Heaton said.
Staff writer Barrie Barber contributed to this story.