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Legislators, Dayton tech experts convene at Russ Research Center for annual research park picnic

Colleen Carow | Oct 1, 2018
Wide shot of a sign

Legislators, Dayton tech experts convene at Russ Research Center for annual research park picnic

Colleen Carow | Oct 1, 2018

Dozens of Dayton-area experts in aerospace, defense and manufacturing networked with legislators, community members, and Russ College of Engineering and Technology faculty and staff at Ohio University’s Russ Research Center annual picnic in Beavercreek, Ohio, Thursday.

The 60-acre high-tech research park, home to several area tech firms and startups, is the site of alumnus Fritz Russ, BSEE ’42, HON ’75, and his wife Dolores’s company Systems Research Laboratory (SRL). The duo established SRL in 1955, developing it into one of the nation's leading electronic and automation corporations before selling it and later bequeathing the property to OHIO.

Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin noted that the Russes started out with just one small building. “After he’d been successful building the SRL up incrementally, Fritz decided that once he sold the company name and business operations, he was going to use the property in order to help others do what he would have been able to do,” Irwin said. “He was very generous with allowing people to use his space at very affordable rates. There are companies around that people aren’t even aware were incubated there.”

Today, Russ College faculty and staff collaborate with campus tenants and teach professional development courses at the park’s Russ Innovation Gateway (RIG) facility, which welcomes visitors at the front corner of the property. The Russ College renovated the building, which was originally Fritz Russ’s workshop, into a conference facility that’s now available for rent.

Assistant Professor of Engineering Technology and Management Neil Littell teaches courses there in product lifecycle management. He said the campus is an important investment because it brings OHIO faculty, staff, and students close to Dayton area industry -- including Wright Patterson Airforce Base and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) – and serves as a neutral ground where research, training, and discourse can take place among companies regardless of their industry. 

“Many times we see companies who could implement solutions from a completely different industry to solve their problems. The center enables these types of collaborations. For example, earlier this year, we hosted representatives from P&G and Honda, who share common challenges despite their different industries,” he said. “It was fascinating to facilitate discussions toward resolving their problems. The Russ Research Center is rapidly growing to be known as an innovation hub in the area, and I for one, am really excited to see what the next few years hold.” 

Ohio Senator Bob D. Hackett has attended many of the annual picnics.

“This event is an opportunity for local experts to meet and share their expertise in numerous engineering fields,” he said. “In addition, the event also showcases the Russ Center’s quality and significant work being done.” 

Hector J. Guevara, an acting division chief at AFRL, which is responsible for 100 percent of the Air Force's science and technology budget, said the AFRL’s trusted partners make a team that consistently exceeds all customer expectations.  

“We need to continue our great partnership across Government, Industry, and Academia to ensure we have access to talented, next-gen workforce and state of the art technologies to keep our country strong and secure.”

State Representative Rick Peralis, who also attended, noted that the Russ Research Center benefits OHIO students.

“Having the Russ Center here in Beavercreek puts Ohio University students in the front row of development, especially in the aerospace and aviation communities. Their collaboration with higher ed institutions here in the Miami Valley shows how integral these partnerships are to enriching all of Ohio’s higher learning communities,” he said. “The Russ Center is truly a gem for our area, and brings with it economic growth and expansion that benefits all Greene County residents and businesses.”
 
A handful of former SRL employees gathered at a table to reminisce about the Russes, their strong value set and unique vision.

Forty-year SRL employee and Russ College alumnus Karol Ondick, who retired as vice president of SRL’s engineering and research center, said the annual picnics started in 1956 at Fritz and Dolores’s home. “There were only 16 or 17 of us at the time. The company grew to 1,200 employees, but not all of us were at the SRL campus – about 50 percent of employees were within government agencies, so the picnic really brought us together,” Ondick said.

Former SRL Operations Manager for Engineering Services Ken Bish, who worked for SRL from 1968-1993, shared renderings of the Russ Nature Reserve with guests. The Russes created a trust for Greene County Parks to develop a 90-acre perpetual nature park on the site of their home in Beavercreek.

“The architecture of the Russ house and the setting among mature trees gives Greene County Parks the opportunity to offer the community a facility that will satisfy many needs. The focus is kids and families, along with nature and education,” he said.

It’s not all business at the Russ Research Center – community organizations benefit as well. Local schoolchildren attended southwest Ohio area’s first ever manufacturing camp for kids, held at the research park this summer. A campus building houses an after-school enrichment program in robotics, and the Greene County Public Library is developing space for a book transfer facility.

"Greene County Public Library is excited to partner with OU — between our Maker Space and your engineering and technology school, we will make design and making an everyday part of life in Greene County," said Karl Colón, Greene County Public Library director.

Scott Miller, Russ College associate dean for industry partnerships, called the event an annual opportunity to share the collective impact OHIO is making in transforming Greene County and the region.

“The event celebrates our successes as a community of innovators and entrepreneurs. The Russ College is proud to be a part of the economic and technological revitalization of the Miami Valley, and we look forward to continuing our work in building a dense network of collaborations that raise the national recognition of the region.”