New downtown Air Force office part of emerging ‘innovation district’

A downtown Dayton building will soon become the heart of an emerging “innovation district” in the city.

A partnership between the Air Force Research Laboratory and Wright Brothers Institute has signed a lease at 444 E. Second St. in Dayton to rent 8,000 square feet of the building’s first floor.

But AFRL and the Institute won’t be the only occupants. The building will also be home to Nucleus CoShare, a Dayton non-profit supports entrepreneurs and small businesses.

It’s expected that the Entrepreneurs Center — which will remain based on Monument Avenue — will also have a presence in the building.

Software and engineering start-up Mile Two has already made its home on the building’s second floor.

The building will even have a small cafe on the first floor.

“This is an opportunity really to pilot new ways of doing technology development and commercialization,” said Les McFawn, director of the Wright Brothers Institute. “We have an incredible opportunity here, as AFRL brings research teams to this location, embedding them down here in this live-work-play environment, this budding innovation district.”

Now, McFawn believes the building will find new life as a place Dayton technology-oriented start-ups can rub elbows with AFRL commercialization experts and researchers.

Basically, the building will be a new haven for tech-savvy start-ups.

“We’re going to get an exchange here, a flow,” said McFawn, a former executive director of AFRL. “During the daytime, it will be free-flow, as needed.”

James Masonbrink, director of the Small Business Hub at the Wright Brothers Institute, said the first floor will be open during the day, with measures to separate AFRL space and its non-classified research work after hours.

“It’ll be open during the day,” said Masonbrink. “We tried to make sure we had an open environment, retaining the industrial feel, but still have the security at night.”

On a typical day, the building will host 30 to 100 people, he predicted.

“We believe the AFRL teams will be doing this research here with some of these non-traditional partners,” McFawn said.

It will be research for warfighters, which is AFRL’s mission, he added — but in this location, that work will be “all unclassified, obviously.”

“They can work with the AFRL teams as new ideas are generated,” he said. “It’s the commercial potential here.”

Why this location?

Millennials want to work in an urban setting where they can be close to eating, drinking — and each other, McFawn said.

“We’ll have that in spades here,” he said.

McFawn praised Jason Woodard, of Woodard Development, who is readying the building for its new occupants, and pointed to two other buildings on Third Street nearby in which Woodard also has an interest — hence the sense that increasingly this area has become a new “district.”

AFRL is headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, minutes from downtown Dayton. Nationwide, the lab has 10,000 employees.

In fiscal year 2015, AFRL reported spending more than $216 million on small businesses in Montgomery and Greene counties, an improvement over $202 million in 2014 and nearly $166 million in 2013.

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