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USTAR hopes Davis tech incubator leads to ‘Silicon Hills’

(Deseret News- By, Jason Lee) —

Utah’s next big technology-oriented corridor may be in the making in northern Davis County, where officials hope to kick-start high-tech companies at “Silicon Hills” on land leased from the Air Force.

Ground was ceremonially broken Friday on the 21,000-square-foot Utah Science Technology and Research Innovation Center at the Falcon Hill National Aerospace Research Park.

Upon completion, the facility next to Hill Air Force Base will house space for startups hoping to make the next big step into the world of innovation and high-tech, explained USTAR Executive Director Ivy Estabrooke.

“We provide mentoring and training through this facility,” she said. “We’re providing the environment that will help early-stage entrepreneurs to take their ideas, develop them into companies, become marketable and become profitable.”

Estabrooke noted that while the University of Utah has an incubator focused on cultivating ideas from researchers at the institution, this facility would target those without similar connections.

“Anyone who has an idea that they come up with in their basement or garage, you could come in and build a prototype, get mentoring and we will help you get connected with different sources of capital to get your company started,” she explained.

USTAR focuses on six industry sectors, including early-stage aerospace, life sciences, advanced materials, energy and clean technology, robotics and automation, along with big data analytics, she said.

Scheduled for completion in late fall, the new facility will offer space for 15 to 20 startups, Estabrooke said. As companies mature — typically over 12 to 18 months, they will move on to be replaced by other startups, she said.

“Every company that enters our program will have to set business milestones they need to reach,” she said. “We (will) hold them to their milestones and help them get the technical resources needed to reach those goals and be successful.”

Located just outside the gates of the military base, the research park is situated along I-15 on a few of the 500 acres of military-owned land that is part of a public-private partnership aimed at developing a new tech corridor — dubbed Silicon Hills — similar to Silicon Slopes along the southern Wasatch Front.

“The new USTAR Innovation Center will leverage this strategic location to deliver Utah’s technology entrepreneurs access to specialized equipment, mentoring and networking industry, academia and engineers from the base in an effort to grow the aerospace, composites and advanced materials sectors of Utah’s economy,” Estabrooke said.

The property is being developed by Sunset Ridge Development Partners, a partnership between Woodbury Corp. and Hunt Cos. Falcon Hill is part of an ongoing public-private partnership between the Air Force and Sunset Ridge that allows the development of commercial property both on- and off-base at no cost to taxpayers, according to Dave Williamsen, director of the base’s Enhanced Use Lease program.

The USTAR facility marks the first “outside the fence” office building developed through Sunset Ridge at Falcon Hill, he noted. Because of the unique Air Force Enhanced Use Lease arrangement, the USTAR facilities and all developments outside the fence will be accessible to the public, he said.

“One of the things this (partnership) is providing the opportunity for good-paying jobs,” Williamsen said. Under the current agreement with Sunset Ridge, the partnership will continue for the next 50 years, he noted, which means lots more opportunity for development and economic growth for the local community.

“It’s exciting to see new organizations capitalize on the benefits of our EUL program,” said Col. Jennifer Hammerstedt, commander of 75th Air Base Wing. “As the Falcon Hill project continues to grow, we hope to see similar private and public projects that will add synergy to the Air Force mission.”

Established in 2006, the USTAR initiative was created to influence science and tech innovation, as well as diversify the state’s knowledge economy. In addition to its incubator function, the new center will also serve Hill Air Force Base engineers by providing them additional space to rapidly prototype new production solutions and to reverse engineer much needed solutions for anticipated supply chain shortages, Williamsen said.

Once complete, the new facility will house approximately 8,000 square feet of office space, state-of-the-art labs and 13,000 square feet of space dedicated to both manufacturing and research and development projects, he said.

Utah is consistently recognized as a growing tech hub, Williamsen said. The new USTAR facility will build on that momentum by helping local businesses and entrepreneurs develop new ideas and products, create new companies and overcome manufacturing challenges, he added.

“Having USTAR at Falcon Hill is a significant boon for the community here, and is just the first of many ‘outside the fence’ tech-focused office projects we envision for this area,” said Taylor Woodbury, chief operating officer at Woodbury Corp. “Much like the Silicon Slopes area down south, our goal is for this new USTAR building to be the cornerstone of the Silicon Hill movement that will help create a thriving tech community in northern Utah.”


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