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Air Force 'innovation center' could reshape Ala. city

C-130 Hercules aircraft at Maxwell Air Force Base on Jan. 12, 2017.

BRADLEY J. CLARK/U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

By BRAD HARPER | The Montgomery Advertiser (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 13, 2017

An Air Force general describes a Maxwell Boulevard in Montgomery, Ala. lined with new buildings, housing major aerospace companies, tech giants and more. All of that could happen — and soon — “if we do this right,” he said.

Maxwell Air Force Base is planning to build an innovation center outside its secure gates where researchers from Air University can collaborate with the nation's top tech minds, potentially bringing in new business and jobs. That pool of talent at Air University already includes the future leaders of the Air Force and future leaders of other nations around the globe, said former Air University commander Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast.

“[The innovation center] is going to become a honeypot for every company that wants to do business with the military, every person that wants to innovate because they can come to a place where they can act faster than any other place in the country,” Kwast said. “When we break open the gates of that base and bring them out into the city, with the kind of connectivity that this [the Montgomery Internet Exchange] provides, you just hang on to your hat and watch how quickly we can invent new ways of living the American dream.”

The center is being developed as a partnership between the military, the city, the county and the state.

A similar collaboration helped create the Montgomery-based internet exchange two years ago with the idea of accelerating access speeds and building data partners. Now known as MGMix, it’s the second-busiest exchange in the Southeast.

As with that project, Kwast said the Air Force is committed to the innovation center because it helps the military stay ahead of the curve on tech advances and cyber security, while also benefiting the community.

“We want to innovate, and the key to innovation is a broad group of people that get together and look at the problem through different lenses,” Kwast said.

The city is planning an official announcement early next year with more details.

For now, it’s just a vision. But Kwast said it’s a vision the military is determined to make a reality, for the good of Montgomery but also for the nation as a whole.

“We may not be able to predict the future, but the best way to be close to being right is to invent it ourselves,” he said.

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©2017 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)
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