WHAT BEGAN AS A CONVERSATION DURING LUNCH WITH FORMER EMBRY-RIDDLE AERONAUTICAL UNIVERSITY CHANCELLOR FRANK AYERS AND SOME CITY AND COUNTY OFFICIALS IN OCTOBER 2016 CONTINUED PERCOLATING FOR JON HAASS, AT THE TIME THE DEPARTMENT CHAIR FOR CYBER INTELLIGENCE AND SECRUITY DEGREE PROGRAM AT THE UNIVERSITY.
His vision was supported by current Chancellor Anette Karlsson and continued gathering momentum locally and throughout the country.
Haass envisioned the Center for the Future as a hub for innovation, incubation, attraction, growth and retention of companies and talent in contemporary and diverse technological and scientific industries, such as cybersecurity and global security, the digital revolution, aerospace, agriculture, software, medical and health services and more.
In 2019, Haass and his colleagues discussed the concept with City of Prescott officials and began negotiations for using space in what was then the two-story City Annex at 220 S. Marina St. They worked closely with the Prescott Chamber of Commerce Foundation, shortly after the incorporation of the center in 2020.
Haass says: “Investing in growing locally based tech companies and jobs in our area will protect our future. At the center, that’s exactly what we are doing. Increasing high-paying tech jobs will encourage our workforce to further its education, to stay here and grow families here, and to contribute as taxpayers to the local economy.”
Haass, a native of Casper, Wyoming, has held jobs ranging from dishwasher to cowboy, ultimately creating his own companies. He earned two bachelor degrees in mathematics and physics at the University of Wyoming; he completed a Ph.D. in applied mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
He has been an executive with five startup companies in the software, hardware and services industries. While working in Silicon Valley, he was an executive-in-residence with leading incubator Plug and Play Tech Center.
Haass served for more than two years as interim dean of the nation’s first College of Security and Intelligence at Embry-Riddle. He serves as the northern Arizona representative on the Governor’s Arizona Cybersecurity Team and is an advisory member for Arizona Cyber Threat Response Alliance.
The center has only officially been a nonprofit corporation since September 2020 or eighteen months. In these months you’ve gone from five clients to 10. Give us a thumbnail about each of those firms, if you would?
Jon Haass: The center was incorporated as a nonprofit Sept. 10, 2020 and entered an agreement with the Prescott Chamber of Commerce Foundation to have them as our fiscal sponsor while we awaited the official 501(c)(3) designation by the IRS, which came to us Sept. 15, 2021.
We have received 8 months of funding from the USDA through our fiscal sponsor beginning in August 2021, and since our grand opening at the Marina Street facilities in July 2021, we have added partner companies (clients): SimpleWAN; SEG, an Axient Subsidiary; the cyber warfare range; CyberCore International; and NewCO (a stealth startup company). We are planning to fill the remaining spaces this summer awaiting the Phase II expansion in the fall.
Eric Knight is the CEO and founder of SimpleWAN, now rebranded as SteadyNet, offering consumer and corporate products. They were attracted to Prescott precisely because he loves it here. He was already located in Phoenix, and the company’s a winner of the Arizona Commerce Authority Innovation Award. They came to Prescott because they saw the opportunity of getting good talent to work in their company. They build managed network products for companies as well as consumers such as gaming enthusiasts.
Perfect timing for the COVID pandemic when people were working from home; so you could have a secure internet and not have to share it with your spouse and kids. So they’ve hired a couple of our Embry-Riddle graduates.
SEG, which is Systems Engineering Group, started last summer. They are an Axient subsidiary. They were an existing company out o Maryland, but while they were negotiating to move in here, they were acquired and the company that acquired them was acquired. They were attracted to the area because their principal scientist Joe Sebeny relocated to Chino Valley. He used to be in Tucson.
They work primarily with U.S. Department of Defense agencies, and their area is high-speed fluid dynamics, hypersonic flight. And, of course, hypersonic is in the news. You saw it with the Chinese testing their first hypersonic missle and we only recently tested our first this spring. The space shuttle was hypersonic. So is SpaceX, but this one is for military purposes.
Then the cyber warfare range is an educational outreach project of the Center for the Future, and we’ve been setting up equipment, servers, software and network devices as a hands-on training tool. We’re scheduled to have students from middle school to seniors and able to participate in workshops, classes, courses and contests to build skills and also to protect our aging population from ransomware and cyber scams.
We have one resident here in town, he is working with us. His brother was an Embry-Riddle grad; we’ve hired him. Then we have three students currently working part-time on the project.
CyberCore International — owned by Gabe Navarette, who is the CEO — has taken 750 square feet on the second floor as of December. It moved from San Jose, where they were focused mostly on executive protection, but all of those high net-worth individuals and families also need protection in cyberspace because almost all surveillance equipment is digital now, and these families or individuals are looking to have a complete protective service from their personal physical security to their stance on the internet so that they can’t be hacked or potentially ransomed on the network.
What kind of economic impact has the center had so far? Are these substantial?
Jon Haass: We have nine people, and that’s close to our goal of 11 for the federal grant. This year, we forecast an
additional six people attracted or added to the work rolls.
At this point, it’s still a relatively small economic impact because we are really in year one of operation. However, the annual impact is approaching $1 million when you consider all of the companies involved, including the funding for the center.
In February, we received a sub award under another USDA grant called RISE (Rural Innovation Succeeds Economically). It is a four-year, $120,000 grant to help provide cybersecurity training. In April we entered a community service contract with Yavapai County after a unanimous vote by the Board of Supervisors. The value is $51,600 and will let us offer workshops, training on cybersecurity for middle school through high school students. We are excited to provide a similar contract to other government entities around the state.
You and your colleagues are involved in developing architectural plans and development plans for a new building. What can you share with us?
Jon Haass: We have artists’ renderings, architectural renderings of two concepts. One of them a single-story, 15,000-squarefoot building. And a second one is a two-story, 30,000-squarefoot building where we would
be sitting on about 2 1/2 acres of land, so we’d have enough parking for about 120 people. Now, this is an artist’s rendition, and we are looking right now at getting input from local as well as out-of-state and out-of-area developers who would be interested in working with us.
But I have the two-story one high-resolution graphics there at the center at 220 S. Marina St. And what we see is that if the two-story is the most cost effective, we won’t build out the second story. We would have it available to build out as we need it, as we add partners.
How technologically sophisticated will this building be?
Jon Haass: We certainly are going to have high-performance fiber coming into the building, and my desire would be to have it be a LEED building, Low Energy Efficiency Design. And one of the areas of interest for us is, of course, water technology because that’s near and dear to Arizona.
Previously, you’ve been connected to a number of Israeli companies; what’s the latest there?
Jon Haass: In April, we met with 20 Israeli companies in conjunction with the Arizona Commerce Authority resulting in two serious inquiries for working on projects together. Arizona is favorable location for these young talented companies to develop U.S. presence. The connection with the very large Israeli player Rafael is helping us to gain attention from the entrepreneurs eying the U.S. market for future technologies like unmanned aerial systems, open source software, machine learning and more.
Prescott LIVING: You’re the founder and president of the center. Do you have a board of directors? How many people on your board?
Jon Haass: We have five. I’m on the board with Jim Robb, who was the former economic development consultant for the City of Prescott, and he’s been active with me on this project for four years or so.
We added Rosa Sosa, who was one of my graduate students at Embry-Riddle, and she is now working for NASA remotely. She’s a cybersecurity engineer working with Houston and helping them make sure that their new products coming forward will include cybersecurity as part of the development and design.
Mike McCormack has joined us, the CEO of CP Technology.
And then we have added Veronica Sas, who has a lot of background as a CFO, as an accountant, and she helped to run a not-for-profit and the accounting, financial, and legal aspects. We have two women and three men on the board and I think it will be really great because the two women are both Spanish-speaking.
So, the different duties; like one of the things that Mike is helping us with is he, of course, has connections with Israel and his parent company, Rafael. But he is the poster child for why would you move your company to Prescott? And so he can speak very eloquently to why he wanted to leave San Diego, which is a great location, but why would he come to Prescott? Rosa is great because she’s younger. She’s a member of the Young Professionals Association here in town.
You have spoken at several events about how you believe the center will stimulate the economy for the greater community.
Jon Haass: That’s right. Historically, an economic incubator accelerator becomes kind of a lead for being able to develop new ideas and new things to happen. For instance, NACET, which is now called Moonshot, up in Flagstaff is now 20 years old. Out of that over 25 biotechnology companies have launched. And at this point they have over 1,000 jobs created.
When we look back in 2027, we’re going to be able to look back and say, “Look, we brought, attracted, accelerated the growth of dozens of companies and created 500 new jobs.” That’s kind of the ballpark we are imagining.
That’s the target and that’s what we envision. And when you look at that think of them as being high-paying jobs. These are technology sector, engineering, cybersecurity, professional jobs. So that’s a substantial income
for the community. For every technology job like that, according to studies all around the country, you create about three and a half other more service-oriented jobs to be able to support them, because you’ll have their families, too. We are imagining younger people, which the area is certainly wanting to attract if we want to be a sustainable community.
I’ve heard you comment that this is one way to keep young people in this area.
Jon Haass: That’s right. We have students at Embry-Riddle and also at Yavapai College and Prescott College that fall in love with the area. What’s not to like about four seasons? Even when it snows, the snow melts in a few days and it never gets as hot as Phoenix, and it certainly doesn’t get as cold as Minnesota or some of the other places.
Or in Flagstaff.
Jon Haass: People would like to stay, but in order to really make the money that they need, they wind up going to Phoenix or the Bay Area or Southern California or Austin or Utah or Colorado. Because that’s where these type
of skilled jobs are well established. And we’d like to be able to say, “Oh look, there are these companies here and you can stay and build your family right here and enjoy the quality of life.”
You’ve received a lot of support for not just the concept but the realities, and it’s coming from outside Prescott. What accounts for that?
Jon Haass: Since coming to Prescott in 2013, I have retained contact with colleagues, companies from both the Boston Area as well as Silicon Valley and Washington DC. Through participation in competitions such as the high school cyber patriot national finals, working with the state of Arizona agencies, being active with the organizations seeking to grow our workforce in Arizona I have been able to harness energy and funding from beyond the local community.
Partners include Yavapai County, NACOG (Northern Arizona Council of Governments), and the Arizona Commerce Authority to name a few at the state level. Innovation centers and incubators are now recognized as valuable to rural communities such as Prescott, Prescott Valley and this attracts interest. We can compare with SCAPE located in Durango Colorado which started 9 years ago and boasts more than $15 million in funds raised, much of it from individuals and organizations outside the immediate town.
Broadband is such a critical part of this.
Jon Haass: Companies today require reliable and high speed internet connection in order to meet the demands of their customers, vendors and partners. In Prescott we have experienced outages due to the single set of connections down to Phoenix through New River. A second fiber path is planned through Wickenberg and is critical to The Interview providing not only redundancy but also higher speeds. In order for a 24/7 operation as we have with the new organizations in the area the quality of electricity, gigabit ethernet and of course reliable water is a must.
And in the near future we will see 10 gigabits as commonplace. This will allow for applications like immersive virtual reality to design and interact in real time. It will allow telemedicine including remote surgery bringing the world’s best skilled workers to our health care locations.
To put this in perspective, a typical Netflix video may be 3-7 mega (million) bits per second while a 10 gigabit connection would be needed for 1000 of these videos to play at once without interruption. This would enable
cloud data storage centers, or a 24/7/365 security operations center (SOC) to be located away from a metropolitan center.
With the coming Taiwan Semiconductor Company (TSMC) facility off I-17 near 303, we will be closer than Chandler (the location of Intel) meaning that suppliers and vendors to TSMC could be located here and offer great jobs for our young men and women. This is an exciting time to invest in these future opportunities.
OK, put that in lay language for people who don’t know the difference between one bit, gigabyte.
Jon Haass: Most of us on our phones, if we’re doing something like Netflix or YouTube, we might be utilizing between one and five million bits per second to have reasonable high-quality TV, HDTV. And so with a gigabit, that’s 1,000 times more bandwidth.
And what that would mean is that you would be able to have multiple people within an organization having high-quality, two-way video conferencing and audio conferencing and be able to support that simultaneously. Ten gigabits, that’s the state of the art in terms of being able to do things like laparoscopy where you have one of your doctors sitting at Boston General help do a surgery here at Dignity Health. And we are taking advantage of that right here.
Right now satellite internet doesn’t support that for the individual. And then, of course, at the end of it you need what is effectively a modem. Instead of being a cable modem, it’s a fiber modem, and then that’s flipped out to distribution device, a router or a switch that people are familiar with from either Sparklight or CenturyLink at their homes, but more sophisticated.
How close are we to it?
Jon Haass: The state and federal funding for the Arizona Broadband initiative is working to make these changes within the next several years. First expanding along I-40 and I-17 and then projects such as the one along state
route 89 through Wickenberg and Yarnell or Skull Valley.
Remember when that fiber was cut last year? It was just a disaster.
Jon Haass: We can’t afford that. When you are 24/7, you can’t have it go down even for an hour or a few hours.
Prescott LIVING: The government passed a stimulus package intended to help the economy. Is that going to have an impact on you?
Jon Haass: I sure hope so because the Economic Development Agency is one of the agencies, as is the USDA, that will be given funds to help with rural economic development, and at least until the next census, Prescott and Prescott Valley are less than 50,000, which is the cutoff for rural. And so we will be able to, just like we did with the two grants we currently have, qualify as a rural innovation.
And one of the programs is earmarked for innovation centers and incubators. It’s written into the law that that’s what some of that money should go for.
And so we’ll be taking advantage of writing to that very thing, and I have already made sure that our two senators are aware of us, our House of Representatives’ person is, and the governor, of course. I met him a few
times. I am on the governor’s Arizona cybersecurity team.
And also then Arizona Commerce Authority knows us, as does Teri Drew at Northern Arizona Council of Governments.
We have a partnership with the University of Arizona Center for Innovation. It has a strong history and can provide us connections, as well as funding opportunities. We are presently submitting another federal grant together.
Can you speculate where you’re going to be in six months? Is that just too far out there?
Jon Haass: We will be offering trainings for students ranging from middle school through post graduate as part of our agreement with Yavapai County. Additionally we will be working with towns and cities across the state for awareness and support since the cyber threats are expected to continue to grow in the next year.
We will also lay the groundwork for our Phase III building near the regional airport.
So that puts us into spring 2024 for having the building occupied.
We have a developer interested in building and then would lease back to the center and its company partners to repay the investment. The more we can raise through philanthropy, grants and other funding, the faster we can move forward. We hope that the different local municipalities, regional and state agencies will see the wisdom of investment. Similar to the regional airport, the Center for the Future project will impact the entire area and be accessible from north 89, south and east from 89 and 89a. Ultimately much like Yavapai College we imagine multiple campuses co housed with other partners.
That means a lot of groundwork to do between now and then. I have a major grant being put together for the Economic Development Agency. It will focus on the rural innovation concept. We’re looking at requesting up to $5 million.
This year we’ll be taking over an additional 1,600 square feet there at our current site. We’ll take over that building at 216 S. Marina St., where the City of Prescott’s finance department is right now because it will be moving to the new City Hall. That’ll bring us up to 5,000 square feet there, and we do have intermediate plans to grow additionally, if we need to, before getting the bigger building. Five years from now we anticipate having at least one building and 300 jobs.
And with 300 jobs you need more than a single building, so I envision a campus so there will be a hub where people come, and they’re attracted to this, too, because they have a local supply chain: “Oh, you need cables? Oh, we have a cable company here. Oh, you need drawings? Oh, we have an engineering company here. Oh, you need cybersecurity? Yep, we’ve got a cybersecurity company here.”
So that we have actually have a little ecosystem of companies able to interact with each other. And we have a good airport.
What else would you like to share, Jon, that you want readers to know about the center and what you’re doing?
Jon Haass: I think the thing that excites me and keeps me going is that I see what is possible when you have young people and they’re given challenges and not bound by people saying, “Oh, well, you can’t do that,” because they don’t think in those terms. They see a problem and they say, “Solution available.” They can pluck that solution and innovation out of the great place where all ideas emanate, and we can see a really important change here and something sustainable in areas that aren’t going to go away, like cybersecurity, autonomy, supply chain, block chain. These are the kinds of things — water technology, health technology — that will be with us throughout this whole century.
The young people who are graduating today, they’re going to be building and their ideas are going to be planting the seeds for the next company and the next company. That’s what excites me.