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June 13, 2000

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Second Southwest as a Region of Innovation conference to focus on microsystems cluster

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Researchers and entrepreneurs will gather in Albuquerque June 27 for the second Southwest as a Region of Innovation conference, where sponsors will make their case for establishing the Southwest as the center of a new national microsystems industry cluster.

This year's conference will build on last year's inaugural edition, which addressed microelectronics, optoelectronics, biomedical/biotechnology, information technology, materials, and energy. This year the focus is on application of those technologies to the fields of biomedicine, biotechnology, and telecommunications.

Albuquerque Mayor Jim Baca welcomed the conference, saying the city has "always been a strong focus for innovation, and Sandia National Laboratories, the University of New Mexico (UNM), the Air Force Research Labs, and Kirtland Air Force Base are the institutions that make the city what it is today.

"I'm pleased that leaders of industry and research have come together this past year to partner in building cutting-edge cluster development to move our technology-based economy into the future," he said. "We are especially excited about the proposed microsystems industry cluster as a forerunner for strategic growth."

The conference is cosponsored by the Department of Energy, Sandia, the city, UNM, and Intel. It will be held at the Convention Center.

"Our goal is to create a regional leadership team that will make the Southwest the center of new microsystems industry clusters," said conference organizer Jackie Kerby Moore. "We hope to create a shared vision of the microsystems industry cluster, which would include identifying the roles and responsibilities needed to bring that vision to reality."

Moore is currently on loan from the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories to Technology Ventures Corporation as project manager for development of the Sandia Science and Technology Park just outside the lab site.

Last year's conference grew out of realization that although industries built around integrated microsystems are already taking shape, they are not gathering in any central location. Conference planners thought to develop the Southwest -- Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah -- as the center of that emerging industry group.

"The goal is to get beyond competition and, instead, find ways to exploit the synergy created in the clusters of a 'sticky' region," said Al Romig, Sandia vice president for Science, Technology, and Components. "That will be a major factor in building momentum for regional economic activity."

A 'sticky' region is one that attracts clusters of related and/or like enterprises.

"In this 'sticky' region, Tucson is a center of work in optics, Utah has become a center of biotechnology, and Phoenix, Albuquerque, and parts of Colorado are centers of microelectronics, and Albuquerque offers additional expertise in opto-microelectronics," he said. "Sandia specifically has expertise in microelectronics and in the broader area of MEMS (microelectromechanical systems)."

Paul Fleury, dean of engineering at the University of New Mexico and a former research vice president at Sandia, said he views microsystems as key to the future of innovation in the United States.

"We have a variety of microtechnology-related programs at UNM. The university feels a responsibility to contribute to the economic development of the region by working with industry to deliver real value from these programs," he said.

"Microtechnology is an area in which we and Sandia both have critical core competencies, and since we both believe this fundamental technology will drive economic development, we have common interests in seeing that development centered in the Southwest."

Specific goals for the conference include:
  • Gaining national recognition of the region's strengths
  • Meeting the immediate demand in biomedical, biotechnology, and telecommunications, as well as defense applications
  • Defining the concrete involvement of universities and technical institutes in curricula, R&D programs, and training
  • Introducing one centerpiece for future growth in the region, Sandia's proposed Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) Facility
  • "In planning last year's start to this effort, we looked at microsystems in the context of industries that have come to maturity in the past -- aerospace in the '50s, computers in the '60s, PCs and semiconductors in the '70s -- and we could demonstrate that they concentrated in general areas," said Moore. "And we thought, 'It doesn't have to be Boston's Route 128 or Silicon Valley; it can be the Southwest.' That's what brought us to last year's conference, and now to this year's."
    Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the United States Department of Energy under contract DE-AC04-94AL85000. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major research and development responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

    Media contact:
    Howard Kercheval, hckerch@sandia.gov, (505) 844-7842

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