The U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground has created a partnership with four regional education, research and workforce organizations to build stronger collaborations between civilian and military researchers, with the goal of developing improved technology for soldiers that, ultimately, can transfer to the civilian sector.
The partnership is expected to generate job growth in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – fields in Cecil and Harford counties, according to one of partnership's leaders.
"What we're trying to do is build a broader collaborative engagement between the Army and academia and industry," Thomas Russell, director of the Army Research Laboratory, said Tuesday. In addition to APG, the laboratory has offices in Adelphi.
Locally, ARL is partnering with the University Center in Aberdeen – formerly known as the HEAT Center, the Northeastern Maryland University Research Park, Northeastern Maryland Technology Council and Susquehanna Workforce Network. The five-year-partnership pact was signed Friday during a ceremony at the University Center.
"It would be developing future technologies to protect the war fighter," Russell said of the effort. "It brings people, facilities and experience together."
The partners will develop and maintain an "open campus," based at APG, that will provide space for researchers, businesspeople, educators and industry representatives to collaborate on the development of new military technology.
The Army Research Laboratory oversaw the development of a pilot open campus in Adelphi during 2014, which has generated an "overwhelming positive response," according to ARL officials.
"In the future, we hope to have a campus-like environment at APG where we can have groups come in and share experience and share facilities with Army researchers and government researchers," Russell said.
Russell said the partners expect to develop a campus at APG similar to the Adelphi campus, which has more than 465 people working in and out of laboratory settings, during the next 12 to 24 months.
He said some joint projects involving military and civilian researchers have already been taking place at APG during the summer.
"How do we recreate the ecosystem we used to have between government, industry and academia to solve national security challenges and challenges for the support of our war fighters, and to protect war fighters of the future?" Russell asked.
Danny DeMarinis, president of the Northeastern Maryland University Research Park, said the creation of such "technology clusters" not only brings in the workers who are directly involved in the various enterprises, but also spurs development of jobs in local goods and service providers who would support them.
"As they collaborate, the advanced technology, which is available for the Army or the military is also available through the universities and the technology transition offices of the government for industry and commercial spinoffs," DeMarinis said.
"For every high-tech job that one brings to the community through these technology partnerships, it has a multiplier effect of about two," he said.
Northeastern Maryland University Research Park is a nonprofit set up about four-and-a-half years ago to help attract high-tech firms to Cecil and Harford counties. Supported by the economic development offices in both counties, URP has offices in Havre de Grace and at Cecil College in North East.
DeMarinis said research clusters "have an immense positive effect on communities" because those workers live in the community, patronize local businesses and cultural institutions and even contribute their own talents to the community.
"It does foster, across the board, the growth of professional opportunities and cultural venues," DeMarinis said.
Nancy Spence, director of the University Center, noted Tuesday that partnerships have been created in the past between individual community organizations and organizations at APG.
"This is the first [partnership] I'm aware of that really is bringing a whole slate of community partnerships together with ARL to work collaboratively," she said.
University Center, which is owned by Harford County, provides space for students in Harford and Cecil counties to take courses offered by a variety of four-year colleges and universities in the state.
Spence, whose organization collaborates with community colleges in Cecil and Harford as well as the four-year schools, said she sees the University Center taking on a "connector" role in the partnership with the Army laboratory.
"We can bring people together, to work together, to brainstorm," she said.
Spence said the organizations in the partnership will be working for the "common good" to support the defense sector, economic development, higher education and "technology transfer."
"I think it's really a community collaboration that makes it so unique," she said.
The Northeastern Maryland Technology Council, established nearly 25 years ago, connects public and private sector technology activities in the region and is backed by grants from Harford and Cecil counties, The Army Alliance of Aberdeen Proving Ground and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, according to the organization's website.
The fifth partner, Susquehanna Workforce Network, a nonprofit based in Havre de Grace, provides job training and other related employment services for individuals, businesses and other organizations in Harford and Cecil counties.
A two-day open house for the APG open campus is scheduled for Nov. 3 and 4. Representatives of any organization who want to participate should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.