U.S. space agency resurrects spirit of ACE in meetings
By Tom Hacker Reporter-Herald Staff Writer
Posted: 09/05/2012 05:18:57 PM MDT
NASA's new earthbound mission could make Colorado a center for technology innovation that "will make the Silicon Valley look old-fashioned," a senior space agency administrator told a Loveland gathering Wednesday.
And Loveland, after 18 months of false starts and faded hopes, still remains the strongest candidate to act as the principal hub for a tech manufacturing renaissance.
NASA sent a team of nine research center managers and scientists from throughout the nation to Loveland for a daylong series of meetings with Colorado businesses, most of them from Northern Colorado, in a renewed push to resurrect the spirit of ACE.
The Aerospace Clean Energy Manufacturing and Innovation Park, or ACE, was announced in April 2011 as a project to turn the former Agilent Technologies campus into a high-tech beehive with thousands of jobs and scores of companies.
In picking up the pieces of that star-crossed project, a top space agency technology manager said hope lives for its renewal.
And she knew just how to reintroduce NASA to the city and the state.
"How many of you are frustrated because we've been talking about this for two years?" asked Diana Hoyt, innovation manager for the space agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters. Hands went up among hundreds of attendees at a city-sponsored business breakfast.
"What we're doing here has never been done by another U.S. government agency," Hoyt said. "Loveland is the crucible where this great experiment is happening. ... In five to 10 years, Colorado can make the Silicon Valley look old fashioned."
Hoyt and other high-ranking space agency officials, by their sheer numbers and far-flung travel schedules, showed a commitment to doing in Loveland what President Obama told them to do in an executive order last fall.
Robert "Joe" Shaw, manager of business development and partnerships at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Ohio, was blunt in describing the president's directive Wednesday afternoon at the Rocky Mountain Center for Innovation and Technology, as the Agilent campus has been rechristened.
"Double down and get your act together -- my words, not his," Shaw said.
"Colorado has the technology, the people, the intellectual property and the facilities. It is a target-rich space of opportunity. ... We're very serious about this relationship, and I hope that message is getting through to you today."
Wednesday's events were a moveable feast for the NASA team, city officials and local businesses, with a city-sponsored business breakfast at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center, followed by the Innovation and Technology Showcase at the Rocky Mountain center on Southwest 14th Street.
NASA space shuttle program veteran and Glenn Research Center director Ray Lugo said NASA's hand-off of its technology to businesses that can commercialize it directly address the issue of government spending that has become such a fat election-year target.
He referred to profit-and-loss statements that guide members of his business audience at the Embassy Suites.
"We're a money sink," Lugo said. "Government doesn't have a P&L statement. It's mostly 'L.' There's not much 'P.' We're working hard on relationships with commercial partners to change that."
The showcase event, organized by Marcie Erion, director of Loveland's Office for Creative Sector Development, featured displays by 33 businesses and organizations.
Afternoon presentations by NASA research scientists brought the agency's work literally down to earth, setting a table for businesses interested in licensing technology to manufacture new products.
Gary Hunter, lead scientist for "intelligent system hardware" for the Glenn Center's sensors and electronics branch, described the mission he and his colleagues are eager to share with commercial partners.
"Make it small, make it smart, and make it adaptable to harsh environments," he said of the work he and other scientists do on projects ranging from fire detection to breath analysis.
NASA's Colorado-based technology transfer advisor, assigned to work with companies that want to tap the space agency's research, said she was already working with 60 who are potential candidates for technology licensing.
"I feel like Lucille Ball with the bon-bons coming down the conveyor belt," said Joni Richards, on leave from her post as small business technical adviser at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.