Ohio universities target Air Force lab for research opportunities

Ohio State University has hired a national security expert to land research deals with the Air Force Research Laboratory headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

But other Dayton area universities say they don’t view the Ohio State-Battelle Memorial Institute alliance as a competitor for lucrative research deals but a collaborator in a statewide network to win more federal dollars and create jobs.

“Our outlook is it’s in our collective interest to support those defense communities the best we can” in Ohio, said Zachary Mears, who was tapped for the $240,000-a-year post. Mears is a former deputy chief of staff to the secretary of defense and former chief of staff to the deputy secretary of defense advising both on national security issues.

The Ohio Federal Research Network has set a goal of landing $300 million in research contracts and creating 2,500 jobs within five years, said Dennis Andersh, executive director of Wright State Research Institute. The network will announce $8.5 million in grants to universities later this month, he said.

“It’s better to work together than separate and we’re seeing teams being formed across universities that we haven’t seen before,” he said.

Multidisciplinary collaborative research among universities is the approach the state is taking rather than competition among institutions, said Blake Thompson, OSU vice president of governmental affairs.

The goal is win more contract dollars with AFRL, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center and the Naval Medical Research Unit at Wright-Patterson and NASA Glenn Research Center near Cleveland. Universities have partnered with each other and private companies in the ventures.

“The dollar volume of contracts issued by the Air Force Research Laboratory is so large that we are not worried about another nearby Ohio institution working in this area,” said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs. “Moreover, the Ohio State University is a close partner with the coalition and they are an important part of the state support we will have from the state for maintaining science and technology and the Air Force Research Laboratory and aerospace in Ohio.”

In fiscal year 2015, AFRL statistics show the federal lab spent nearly $54 million with the University of Dayton and more than $5 million between Wright State University and the Wright State Research Institute. AFRL reported it spent a total of $2.9 million with Ohio State University and more than $890,000 with Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus that same year.

The state has earmarked $20 million to Wright State Applied Research Corp. on administrative oversight of the Ohio Federal Research Network. The Ohio Federal and Military Jobs Commission spun-off the network in 2015. Wright State has worked closely with Ohio State on the initiative, said Andersh, also chief executive officer of the Wright State Applied Research Corp.

In February, the network announced $7.1 million in Ohio Department of Education funds would be spent to start four “centers of excellence.”

The network set aside $2 million — or $1 million in each of two years — for the Materials and Manufacturing Center of Excellence at the University of Dayton; and a total of $1.5 million over two years for the Human Performance and Healthy Science Center of Excellence at Wright State.

The network also earmarked a total of $2 million over three years to the Ohio Center for Power and Propulsion Center of Excellence at OSU; and $1.6 million for a Partnership for Research in Energy Storage at Case Western Reserve University.

John E. Leland, executive director of the University of Dayton Research Institute, said in a statement the Dayton university “has a long history of collaboration with the Ohio State University, and we believe this will open up even more opportunities for us to collaborate in ways that will allow us to provide expanded research services to the Air Force.”

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