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Governor's Budget Proposes $2.1 Million in Continued Support for ODU's VMASC

Gov. Timothy Kaine unveiled a 2009 budget proposal on Wednesday that would provide $2.1 million in continued state support for Old Dominion University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC), signifying the growing importance of modeling, simulation and visualization (MS&V) to the Hampton Roads economy.

A $2.1-million budget appropriation, coming in a lean budget year, would demonstrate the faith that the Kaine administration and the General Assembly have in the economic development stimulus of the MS&V sector in Virginia, said John R. Broderick, the ODU acting president.

"The governor's commitment to modeling and simulation surely shows his understanding of what this growing industry means to our region, to the creation of jobs and to the expansion of the economy," Broderick said. "Also, this budget recommendation recognizes the unique role that VMASC plays in educating leaders in this field. More than 125 engineering graduate students at ODU currently are conducting research and studying at VMASC, gaining the qualifications they need to fill jobs in a variety of businesses and industries throughout the region."

An economic impact study released earlier this year found that MS&V enterprises in Hampton Roads provided almost 4,500 high-wage jobs in 2007. These workers earn an average annual salary of about $83,000, up by 37 percent since 2004 and more than double the average for all Hampton Roads workers, according to the study.

VMASC, which was established by ODU in 1997, has been a catalyst for the growth of the MS&V sector, both in the region and state. VMASC experts also have been called upon by the General Assembly to conduct studies and make recommendations on policy matters ranging from road construction to disaster planning. For example, VMASC completed this fall a major Hampton Roads transportation project review that had been commissioned by legislators.

Broderick said state support for VMASC in the coming budget year would help to assure the center's future. "This is something that I and members of our Board of Visitors have been promoting with the governor and his cabinet since the summertime," the acting president added. "The General Assembly has always been supportive of modeling and simulation and it is certainly our goal to maintain that support in this session. The fact that VMASC has been asked by the Hampton Roads delegation to take a leadership role in the transportation project is great evidence of that."

The General Assembly will consider the governor's budget proposal during its 2009 session, which begins in mid-January.

An economic impact study by the consulting and research firm Angle Technology that was released earlier this year showed that Hampton Roads gained at least $365 million in economic activity in 2007 from MS&V enterprises. The firm reported that according to a second model, the impact may be as high as $600 million.

The report found that regional MS&V employment rose 25 percent between 2004 and 2007 and forecast a regional MS&V employment increase averaging 14.5 percent a year through 2012.

Angle Technology performed the study at the request of the Old Dominion University Research Foundation, the Hampton Roads Partnership, the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission also contributed economic impact analysis.

At the time that Angle released its report, Kaine said, "This is a revealing study that shows the significant impact of the modeling and simulation sector in Hampton Roads." He also gave credit to VMASC for helping to make MS&V a growth industry. "We are using the technology developed and used at VMASC to save lives in the medical field and to model evacuation procedures," Kaine said, offering two examples of the research and development focuses of VMASC.

VMASC, which moved last year into a new $11.6 million facility in the Churchland area at the Portsmouth-Suffolk border, trains graduate students in MS&V and also serves as a research and development center that supports government/military entities and private industry. It acts as an incubator for entrepreneurial activities in MS&V, often assisting in business startups.

"VMASC is pleased with the role it plays as a catalyst for growth in the modeling, simulation and visualization sector in the region," said Michael McGinnis, the retired brigadier general who has been executive director of ODU's VMASC since June 2006. "With the opening of our new facility, we have gained the ability to train more students and to step up our efforts in research and development."

MS&V comprises numerous planning, analysis and training tools made possible by sophisticated computing. These tools can suggest and test concepts, minimizing reliance upon trial and error, and they can present information in ways that enhance comprehension. For example, the tools might teach a medical student how to perform a surgical procedure without putting an actual patient in harm's way. Other applications are seen in simulations to test aircraft designs, in vehicular traffic models to simulate-and improve-flow at highway interchanges, in video games to teach algebra and in models to predict the performance of a soldier or an athlete. Artificial intelligence, robotics and virtual environments also are part of MS&V.

MS&V growth in the region reflects the support of leaders in government, education and industry who believe Virginia, and especially Hampton Roads, can become an international leader in this high-technology field, McGinnis said.

"These are high-skill, high-wage jobs that any region in the country would be proud to have," Mark Warner, whose gubernatorial administration from 2001-05 generated critical seed money for MS&V research and development in Hampton Roads, said earlier this year. "All of our partners-public and private, military, federal, state, regional and local-should be proud of what we have been able to accomplish by working together." Warner was elected a U.S. senator from Virginia in November.

The northern tip of Suffolk has been dubbed "Sim City" because of its concentration of simulation-related facilities, agencies and industries. In addition to ODU's VMASC, Lockheed Martin Corp., General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon Co. and Science Applications International Corp. have a presence in the region. Altogether, about 50 businesses and industries, ranging from the large Northrop Grumman in Newport News to the small WernerAnderson Inc. in Gloucester, are VMASC industry members. Sim City also is home to the Joint Forces Command's Joint Warfighting Center, a research arm of the Pentagon.

ODU, through its Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology and VMASC, conferred the world's first engineering Ph.D. in modeling and simulation in 2003.

This article was posted on: December 17, 2008

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