A vision called Center for the Future conceived by professor and administrator Jon Haass at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott campus has become a reality.
As Haass explains it, “Our center will form the nucleus for growing a number of quality jobs in the Prescott region through incubation, acceleration and attraction of companies to the area. With our initial focus on cybersecurity and aerospace — two key sectors that are strongly supported across Arizona and the U.S. — the vision is already drawing attention from Silicon Valley and the Phoenix area to Northern Arizona.”
Haass helped found the Department of Cyber Intelligence and Security (CIS) serving as a faculty member and professor. He later was department chair and then interim dean of the department. He conceived the CIS vision four years ago during the annual OctoberWest homecoming activities.
The proposed site for the multistory center is on the east side of the Deep Well Ranch/Crystal Lane and SR 89 intersection near the Prescott Regional Airport. Haass and his colleagues currently are working with architects and a builder in defining the needs and designing the concept. Construction is expected to begin this coming year, thanks to support from local individuals and groups, Haass said.
In a statement following the Prescott City Council’s unanimous approval to set aside up to $3.7 million in existing city funds to support the project, Mayor Greg Mengarelli wrote: “We recognize the vital role the center will play in the current and future economy of Prescott. We have invaluable partnerships with many stakeholders, including our local universities and colleges. We seek to retain a much greater proportion of the talented graduates who are educated and trained in Prescott but who unfortunately have to leave to pursue their careers.”
City of Prescott economic development consultant Jim Robb said of the center, “This opportunity will serve as an incubator for major high-tech companies. It will be the start of creating organically high paying jobs for our local graduates and citizens. The proposed location near the new regional airport terminal is perfect.”
Tenants Signing On
Several anchor tenants for the center already have signed on. One is Katalyst Space Technologies. It was created by ERAU grads Ghonhee Lee and Kaleb Beebout. It will focus on lower cost and more sustainable approaches to satellite operations.
Another tenant is SimpleWAN from Phoenix, launched by Eric Knight in 2014. SimpleWAN announced it will move its corporate headquarters from Phoenix to Prescott and the center. The company’s multi-award-winning, all-in-one solution boasts more than 10,000 deployments. It is being rapidly adopted by national chains and multi-location businesses. It caters to small and mid-sized businesses and their need to secure employee home office connectivity.
Other innovative companies that have expressed interest are GSIS, an international global security firm with headquarters in Washington, D.C.; Cybercore International from Silicon Valley, California; GOPADZ, from southern California; among others.
As defined by Haass, the mission for the center includes becoming a hub for incubation and innovation, accelerating growth of companies, creating local jobs for local residents, and attracting companies to locate in the Quad City area and to provide employees and their families with opportunities for a high quality of life in the greater Prescott region.
When Haass first proposed the center, it was supported by ERAU Chancellor Frank Ayers, now retired, and several city and community leaders. Current Chancellor Anette Karlsson has enthusiastically endorsed the objectives of the center.
Haass also praised people and organizations who have supported the creation of the center. He cited the local governments of Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley. “It takes a village to make something like this happen. We see this as a regional resource because the employees will be living throughout the Quad City area.”
The advisory group that originally helped define and propel the center has filed paperwork to create separate a 501(c)3 corporation. Those legal documents, when approved by the state, will allow donations, gifts and other philanthropic opportunities to have tax advantages and eligibility for grants restricted to the nonprofit sector.
Haass praised central and northern Arizona as ideal locations to retain talent and to avoid the churn of employees that some larger tech hubs are experiencing. “Faculty, students and technology at Embry Riddle-Prescott, as well as other institutions of higher education, have a unique opportunity to fuel the development of companies — both existing and to-be-formed — in a variety of exciting fields.” He specifically mentioned ERAU, Yavapai College and Northern Arizona University as being academically involved.
Haass said he anticipates it will take five to seven years to see the center grow to the potential that has occurred in other rural communities. He believes over time, more than 100 jobs will be created through local incubation and 485 jobs indirectly through attraction. He also suggested the creation of more than $111 million in additional taxable income over time because of the new job creation.
Haass said emerging job fields include cyber security, global security, autonomous and robotic systems, data science, simulation science, block chain, supply chain, and software.
“I believe these will be among the top areas for private and public investment in coming decades,” he said. “We’re also borrowing ideas from other technology centers such as SkySong in Scottsdale, Plug and Play in Sunnyvale, California, and the Southwestern Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs.”
Haass earned his Ph.D. in mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. He also earned two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Wyoming, Laramie.