While the science may be beyond many of us, the economics are not at all confusing.
Central Kentucky stands to gain in a big way from the location here of a company with proprietary technology to make better, cheaper, longer-lasting, faster-charging and safer batteries to power everything from cellphones to cars to drones.
NOHMs Technologies, along with a host of local and state dignitaries, announced Wednesday that its core operations will move to the recently opened Kentucky-Argonne center. That center, opened about a year ago, was funded largely by stimulus monies and developed through a partnership among the state, the universities of Kentucky and Louisville and the Argonne National Laboratory, a leader in basic battery research.
NOHMs (nanoscale organic hybrid materials) plans to invest over $5.3 million and employ 162 people in coming years.
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Those numbers are important, but if they were the whole story this would be just another welcome, but incremental, addition to our local economy.
But, as explained in a National Science Foundation grant award to the company, the technology "could transform the mobile device market, the electric vehicle market and energy storage market."
That would mean Lexington could have a significant player in a market with an estimated value of $44 billion by 2020.
Obviously, NOHMs is not the only company trying to develop and commercialize a better battery to gain a share of that huge and growing market. No one knows for sure if the public investments to attract NOHMs will pay off in a big way, even though we certainly hope so.
What we do know is that if we're not in the game there's no chance to win. And that's the exciting thing about the forward-thinking approach to economic development that the Kentucky-Argonne center represents.
The vision was to create a place where early-stage companies could do research in world-class labs that they would otherwise have trouble getting access to, and a facility to manufacture prototypes of the products of their research.
Kentucky-Argonne has labs for battery manufacturing and testing, as well as labs for biofuels research and solar research. In the first year, research has been developed there with, among others, Ford, Hitachi and Toyota.
But NOHMs -- founded in 2010 in Ithaca, N.Y., based on research at Cornell University -- represents the visionary companies that Kentucky-Argonne was built to attract.
"It really is a big success. ... This is what we wanted to attract," said Rodney Andrews, the director of the Center for Applied Energy Research at UK, which leads UK's involvement. Companies that are not just competing but "getting ahead of the market."
Kentucky has languished behind the nation and the market for a long time, in part because of its devotion to old ideas and technologies. This forward-thinking investment — in Kentucky-Argonne and in NOHMs — has the potential to be transformational, not just incremental.