John M. Rhodes, Senior Principal, Moran, Stahl & Boyer, LLC (Southern Tech Sites 2007)
Technology is all about performance - the development of products that enhance speed, increase strength, alter size to either mega- or nanoscale, reduce cost, and improve overall effectiveness. The application of technology has had significant impact on medical diagnostics and treatment, communications infrastructure, defense and security systems, transportation equipment, construction techniques, utilization of energy, protection of the environment, entertainment media, and other aspects of society. High-tech products can be complex and frequently integrate some aspect of science, engineering, and computer software and hardware to produce a material, component, equipment, or system.
The development and commercialization of a technology-derived product follows a typical product life cycle see (Slideshow, Page 1, Figure 1). The time that a specific product is actually on the market may vary from years to months before it is upstaged by a next-generation product. The cycle begins with basic and applied research that is most frequently performed in university, government, or industrial laboratories. Research breakthroughs lead to product development and potentially transition to commercialization and product rollout. At each stage in the process, there is a need for specific resources that include access to facilities and utilities, qualified labor, transportation, quality of life, financial funding and incentives, and other requirements. As the pace of new breakthroughs accelerates, companies seek to gain access to the resources that allow them to stay ahead of the marketplace and sustain their competitive advantage.
The Southern United States is a diverse region where many different technologies are researched, developed, produced, and utilized. For example, in aerospace technology there are five NASA Space and Research Centers located throughout the region: Johnson Space Center (Houston, Texas); Marshall Space Center (Huntsville, Ala.); Kennedy Space Center (Titusville, Fla.); Langley Research Center (Hampton, Va.); and Stennis Space Center (south of Picayune, Miss). In addition, there are aircraft component and final assembly plants such as Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation in Savannah, Ga.; Boeing in St. Louis, Mo.; Lockheed-Martin in Marietta, Ga.; Bell Helicopter Textron and Lockheed-Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth, Texas; and the planned Honda Aircraft plant in Greensboro, N.C. There are also major military aircraft maintenance bases at Fort Rucker, Ala.; Tinker AFB, Okla.; Kelly AFB, Texas; and Robins AFB, Ga., along with major commercial maintenance and repair operations in Houston, Dallas, Tulsa, Memphis, Louisville, Charlotte, Atlanta, and other locations. A number of universities have aerospace-related research centers as noted in (Slideshow, Page 2, Table 1).
Similarly in automotive technology, the region is host to more than 20 existing vehicle assembly plants in addition to the recent announcements concerning the KIA plant to be located near West Point, Ga., and the Toyota plant near Blue Springs, Miss. The assembly plants have attracted a significant number of service, material, and component suppliers to the region. The passion for motor sports in the South is demonstrated by the existence of eleven NASCAR tracks that entertain fans and test new products on a weekly basis. Many of the racing crews are located near Charlotte, N.C., and in other Southern locations. In order to serve the industry, a number of universities have research centers focused on different aspects of vehicle design, safety, performance, and emerging technologies as shown in (Slideshow, Page 3, Table 2). To further support the automotive industry, the Advanced Vehicle Research Center is being constructed northeast of Rocky Mount, N.C. It will include a world-class 4.1-mile vehicle-testing track and support facilities.
The region also has a significant development and production of medical instruments and supplies; semiconductors, electronic components, and fiber optics; carbon fiber and other engineered materials; and an emerging biotechnology industry. There are also many software development service firms that support a wide variety of industries and applications.
The National Science Foundation reported that university R&D expenditures within the region were nearly $13 billion in 2005 (28 percent of university R&D expenditures nationally). These expenditures are summarized by state and selected areas of research in (Slideshow, Page 4, Table 3 ). A number of the universities within the region rank among the top research institutions nationally and are engaged in a variety of technology-related research projects that include:
• Material sciences, including nanomaterials and intelligent materials;
• Life sciences/biotechnology, including bioinformatics, biomedical engineering, molecular medicine, medical devices, pharmacogenetics, neutraceuticals, and biosensors;
• Electronics, including semiconductors, nano-electronics, optoelectronics, and sensors;
• Information and computer technology, including supercomputer computations, modeling and simulation, and visualization; and
• Marine sciences and oceanography.