From HQ2 to EIC2 – the next big deal

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Print this page by Bernie Niemeier

No doubt. Virginia was the big winner in the competition for an East Coast headquarters for Amazon.  Originally pitched as a single project, the headquarters eventually was split into two, with Arlington and Queens in New York City being announced as the winning locations. That appeared to be the climax of a 14-month selection process involving nearly 240 competing locations across the U.S.  Then, the unthinkable happened in Queens — politics got in the way, and Amazon pulled out of New York.

Unthinkable, at least in Virginia.  A few community activists have voiced objections here, but the economic incentives offered by Virginia were nowhere near the size of the dollars dangled by New York.  Despite not being a big spender on incentives, the commonwealth still won what could ultimately result in up to 37,000 high-paying, high-tech jobs.  Score one for Virginia.

So, what’s up next?  How about nuclear physics?

A much lower profile, public-sector project has been in the works for years.  In 2015, the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (NSAC) recommended to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) that construction of a U.S.-based Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) should be the highest priority for new facilities.

The DOE commissioned the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct an independent third-party review of the NSAC recommendation to construct an EIC.

Last summer, after 14 months of study, the National Academies released their findings, concluding that the EIC was timely, has the support of the nuclear science community, and will ensure U.S. leadership in nuclear physics with the potential for positive impacts on information technology, communications, health care, national security and other industries.

Unlike Amazon’s HQ2, which attracted interest from across the U.S., proposals for the EIC project are under development in just two locations, the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator facility (Jefferson Lab) in Newport News and the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Long Island, N.Y.

Both Jefferson Lab and BNL have considerable advantages over other locations because each has existing accelerators that can be adapted in cost-effective ways for an EIC expansion.

At this stage, the two facilities are doing more to collaborate in support of approval and funding of the project than they are competing over its final location.  Both will ultimately benefit from the increased scientific knowledge generated by the creation of an EIC, regardless of where it is located.

Jefferson Lab has established an Electron-Ion Collider Center (EIC2) to support the technological development and design of the EIC.

At this stage the scope and scale of the project remain unknown, but early guesstimates are that DOE government funding in the range of $1 billion would be required.  The economic impact of the construction project would be enormous and ultimately as many as 3,000 permanent, doctoral-level jobs would be created.

Newport News is ideally situated for this project.  Proximity to the federal government, existing defense, information technology, shipbuilding and federal contracting infrastructure are all positives.  As much as we are for the diversification of Virginia’s economy, the ability to work effectively and efficiently on federally funded projects remains one of the commonwealth’s major economic strengths.

As one might expect, the use of federal funds makes the timeline a bit vague.  Assuming that construction is approved, site selection is expected to occur in 2020, with construction to begin in 2021.

Kudos to Brookhaven and Jefferson Lab for their mutual support of this project, but for many reasons we believe that Newport News will ultimately prevail as the location of choice.

Another big win for Virginia.  Let’s put the commonwealth’s best foot forward and hope that turns out to be the case!

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