DRI likely to boost growth of economy

Analysts looking at the economic future of northern Nevada unfailingly say that Desert Research Institute will play an increasingly important role.

Research coming out of DRI's labs is likely to provide the basis for new technology companies in the region particularly in high-growth areas such a renewable energy.

But even without the prospects of commercialization, DRI is an often-unheralded cornerstone of the economy in Reno.

"They attract new money to the region's economy," says Chuck Alvey, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. "And they are attracting new talent to the market."

Nearly all the work at DRI, the nonprofit research campus of the Nevada System of Higher Education, involves dollars that are new to the region's economy.

The federal government accounts for about 88 percent of the research funds that come into the campus, either directly or through states and other universities that contract with DRI, says Kelly Frank, a spokeswoman for DRI.

That amounted to $32.7 million in DRI's most recent fiscal year.

Three weeks ago, for instance, the federal government said it will send $1.1 million to DRI research teams to study polar ice to learn about causes of climate change and learn about microorganisms that can survive in extremely cold environments.

And the remaining 12 percent of DRI's research funds, those that come from private companies or foreign sources, also are largely new dollars to the region. That contributed another $4.3 million to the region's economy in the recent fiscal year.

The state government allocates about $668,000 a year to DRI, which uses the money to either match other grants or to share in the cost of research.

DRI has successfully leveraged those funds pulling anywhere from $5 to $9 into Nevada for every dollar invested by state budget-makers.

And most of the employment at DRI researchers, administrators, technicians is the sort of high-skill, high-wage jobs that economic developers target.

The role of DRI as a basic element of the region's economy is likely to grow as some of the applied research conducted in its labs provides the fuel for new companies.

"Applied research is where companies come from," says Mike Skaggs, executive director of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development.

DRI's scientists already accompany the staff from the economic development commission to trade shows, where they talk with prospective new employers to the region about the ways in which the presence of DRI can accelerate private research.

That's particularly important in the field of renewable energy, which is both a focus of DRI research and one of the industries targeted to create new jobs in Nevada.

Some of those workers maybe several hundred of them may be employed by companies housed in the 300-acre Dandini Research Park that's planned on the hillside between DRI and Highway 395 in north Reno.

The park is getting attention from some major technology companies as the site for new facilities, says Jeff Pickett, managing director of the nonprofit DRI Research Parks Ltd. that spearheads the parks development.

The nonprofit also believes the research park someday may be home to young technology companies spawned by research conducted in DRI labs.

An economic impact analysis estimates that about 500 people could be working at technology and life sciences companies at Dandini Research Park within a decade of its establishment.

The park is projected to include more than 160,000 square feet of office and research space.

A few days ago, Sen. Harry Reid said that the U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded DRI a $200,000 matching grant to begin creation of a master plan for the research park.

And it's not just any master plan.

When it's finished, companies thinking about sites at Dandini Research Park will be able to step into DRI's six-sided, total immersion computer-modeling program. They'll experience the view out of office windows, look around at neighboring buildings and get virtual-reality sense of the park's infrastructure.

The computer modeling program is housed in the new $26 million DRI Computational Research and Visualization Building dedicated a few days ago.

Access to facilities at nearby DRI and the intellectual stimulation of working in the neighborhood of the some of the world's top scientists are important drawing cards for Dandini Research Park, says Pickett.

DRI Research Park Ltd. is directed by a board that includes membership from DRI, EDAWN, the University of Nevada, Reno, and northern Nevada businesspeople.

Research that might lead to commercial applications is promoted by the Technology Transfer Office, which serves both DRI and the University of Nevada, Reno. The office works to identify early-stage technology and move it into the marketplace to help diversify the state's economy, Frank says.


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