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AF lab reaches out to local businesses

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — About 100 businesses attended a networking event with the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque on Monday to learn about opportunities to sell products and services to the lab.

The event, held at the city-run Epicenter in the emerging Innovation District Downtown, is part of a three-day AFRL conference in Albuquerque to educate entrepreneurs from across the country about how to win contracts with the lab, said Casey DeRaad, chief of technology outreach for the AFRL. The Epicenter event, however, was aimed particularly at encouraging more local firms to seek contracts with the AFRL, since more than half of the lab’s annual spending currently goes to out-of-state firms.

“The AFRL contracts out about 80 percent of its funds each year, and a lot of those dollars leave the state,” DeRaad said. “We’re trying to communicate more with local vendors to provide a better understanding of how they can compete for contracts and take more advantage of opportunities.”

The AFRL, which manages a $4 billion annual budget at “directorates” nationwide, maintains two research directorates at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque – the Directed Energy Directorate for works on lasers and microwave technology and the Space Vehicle Directorate for satellites and other space-related work.

Together they receive about $500 million in annual federal funding. But unlike other national laboratories, the AFRL spends most of its money on contracts with outside vendors, rather than on internal work at the labs. That creates a lot of opportunity for businesses, said David Hardy, head of the Directed Energy Directorate.

“We have a unique model for research,” Hardy told event participants. “While most national labs keep nearly all their research inside the fence, the AFRL (nationally) spends only about 30 percent of its budget internally. The other 70 percent goes out to industry.”

AFRL scientists develop inventions for war fighters, but the lab wants the private sector to build those new technologies, said Greg Spanjers, chief scientist at the Space Vehicles Directorate.

“We want to spin the technology off for private companies to build it,” Sanjers said.

Gov. Susana Martinez, who also spoke at the event, said companies seeking work with the AFRL can take advantage of new tax breaks for high-tech industry, such as a law approved this year that eliminates gross-receipts taxes on products built for space and directed-energy technology.