A new research park at ORNL will increase access to technology.
The scene is surreal. Researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and engineers from Fortune 500 companies huddled over cups of coffee to discuss their latest cooperative research. Modern office towers and green space where toxic waste sites and 1940s-era Quonset huts once stood. A casual mix of jeans and backpacks, khakis and polos, suits and ties.
This is the vision for a new Oak Ridge National Laboratory Innovation Valley Science and Technology Park.
Unveiled in May 2006, with construction on the first facility set to begin this fall, the S&T Park is the latest chapter in ORNL’s modernization efforts.
Partners in the project include UT-Battelle—Oak Ridge National Laboratory; the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee, an economic development organization to which the park property has been leased; the University of Tennessee, which will co-locate in the park; Technology 2020 and its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth, which is funded by UT-Battelle and will also likely locate onsite, and the Innovation Valley Nano Initiative, a regional initiative to create a nanotechnology business hub in East Tennessee.
Two local companies, Pro2Serve and Holrob Investments, have agreed to construct the park’s first two $15 million, 100,000-square foot buildings onsite. Pro2Serve is an Oak Ridge firm that contracts engineering services to the Laboratory and other DOE customers—work that includes commercialization of ORNL-developed, national security-related technologies. Holrob Investments is a private development company that will lease out the space. Plans call for a total of 40 acres to be transferred by DOE to the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee and developed for the technology park and associated green space.
ORNL anticipates the park’s future occupants could include groups from ORNL partner universities, research and development satellite offices for industrial partners of the Laboratory, start-up companies founded by ORNL researchers or licensees and a nanotechnology research center under development by Technology 2020 as part of the Nano Initiative. The research center would offer low-cost access to dedicated micro/nanofabrication facilities and shared access to higher-end, state-of-the-art fabrication facilities at ORNL. The center also would serve as a link between basic research being done at the Spallation Neutron Source and nanocenter and the business community. ORNL’s Technology Transfer and Economic Development offices would also likely relocate to space in the park.
A member of the Association of University Research Parks, the technology park marks a first for national laboratories across the country by bringing companies inside the fence. The model is one begun by universities noted for success in technology transfer, whose track record UT-Battelle is working to emulate.
“We are the first lab to have a research park in a secure area,” says Tom Ballard, director of economic development and partnerships in ORNL’s Technology Transfer and Economic Development office. “The park is a statement that we really do value commercialization of our research. The park’s location also says we want to see things done locally when they can be.”
Some question whether private firms will want to locate on a federal government site, given the accompanying security and restrictions. On the other hand, higher security requirements can be a selling point for certain businesses, says Alex Fischer, director of ORNL’s Technology Transfer and Economic Development office. “For some types of companies, a location behind the fence is ideal,” he notes. “Requiring visitors to provide identification and sign in to get a visitor’s pass is commonplace in the business world. In today’s climate, it is a positive thing for R&D and national security companies to work in a setting that has a higher level of security.”
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