Senator: Downtown tech hub ‘so important for national defense’

Recently passed industrial bill would create similar hubs across the nation

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown visited the Wright Brothers Institute/444 Building in downtown Dayton on Tuesday, hailing the shared work space as an example of the kind of technology hubs that would be encouraged by an industrial policy bill the Senate overwhelmingly passed this month.

Brown and his colleagues had industrial prowess and national security in mind when they passed, by a 68-32 margin, a 2,400-page bill that would invest in emerging technologies and strive to sharpen competitiveness with China.

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At the Wright Brothers Institute, engineers try to commercialize technologies devised by the Air Force Research Laboratory, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The organization acts as a bridge between military and civilian expertise.

“The work you do here is so, so important in the Miami Valley and so, so important for national defense,” Brown said after a 25-minute tour of what is often called the “444 building.” The property at 444 E. Second St. is shared by AFRL, educators and a variety of entrepreneurs.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its own version of the bill Monday, but with some significant differences. The House version does not address the creation of regional technology hubs like the one in downtown Dayton and lacks funding for semiconductor production, seen by some as work that should be reshored and protected.

Brown, D-Ohio, did not discuss the differences between the House and Senate bills, but he did address what he sees as the general need to reinvigorate American industry, positioning the nation for competition with China.

“We know we’ve got to compete with China,” the senator said. “We know we’ve got to invest.”

It will be up to legislators now to craft a compromise bill that can be presented to President Joe Biden for his signature.

Since 2016, the 444 building has emerged as the anchor of what is sometimes called Dayton’s “Innovation District.” A partnership between AFRL and the Wright Brothers Institute signed a lease to rent 8,000 square feet of the building’s first floor in early 2017.

At the time, software and engineering start-up Mile Two had already made its home on the building’s second floor. And soon enough, developer Jason Woodard was calling the office home as well.

“The Miami Valley is absolutely ready to help us lead the way in all of these things,” Brown said.

Jeff Graley, president of Mile Two, told listeners the Senate bill can act as “catalyst” to things Dayton firms have long tried to do. And Nicholas Ripplinger, president of Battle Sight Technologies, noted that Dayton is already home to his company, as well as Mile Two, JJR Solutions, Tangram Flex and other like-minded firms.

“I can’t wait to see the collaboration among the existing companies and the new spin-offs that come out of it,” he said.

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