What's in a name? For Mesa, it's key to research lab's success - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

What's in a name? For Mesa, it's key to research lab's success

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Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 2:53 pm | Updated: 5:55 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Mesa can claim it's home to one of the nation's premiere aerospace research labs, yet the facility's name does nothing to convey its significance.

After all, a place referred to as the former Air Force Research Lab could make a person wonder if it's still operating.

But the lab's 200 researchers are busy working on warfare readiness - if only for a few more weeks.

The military is winding down its research there and preparing to hand off the lab to Mesa. The city is busy recruiting new tenants to keep the lab full - and at the same time looking for a snappier name that helps with a nationwide recruitment for new researchers.

The city aims for the lab to employ 200 or more researchers who are highly paid and work on technologies that attract other jobs to the area. Mesa spent the last couple years working through federal bureaucracy to keep the lab, so renaming it hasn't been a high priority until now.

The city is starting to focus on a name now, said Patrick Murphy, an economic development project manager.

"We want it to be something that's nationally recognized and obviously has Mesa somehow incorporated in the name," Murphy said. He added the current name is "kind of wordy and we need something that's a little bit easier to roll off your tongue."

He'd like to have a name as soon as Sept. 16, when the Air Force relinquishes the lab to Mesa.

The lab is one of only a few in the nation that can boast a top-secret clearance, which allows it to employ some of the top researchers and scientists in the nation. The lab is at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, which had been an Air Force base until 1993.

About half the facility's researchers are expected to transfer to the lab's new home next month at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Mesa hopes the remainder can find another job in the lab here as the city leases space to defense contractors and university research programs.

The lab's new identity is significant enough to Mesa that the City Council will name a citizen committee to help with the name, City Manager Chris Brady said. The city will get feedback from business groups, potential tenants and Alion Science and Technology, a Virginia-based defense firm Mesa hired to operate and market the lab.

The city would prefer to have Mesa in the name but officials acknowledge a higher priority is having an identity that appeals to aerospace firms. And it could be that Mesa's name gets overshadowed, just like the adjacent Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

Phoenix trumped Mesa in the name because airline passengers are more likely to use the larger city's name when searching the Internet for flights to the Valley, Mesa Councilman Scott Somers said. When Allegiant became the airport's first airline, the company told Mesa that using the word Phoenix in the name was crucial to it success.

Somers, whose district encompasses the lab, said a similar principle may apply to the facility's new name.

"I would love to see Mesa in the name somewhere in this but ultimately what's more important is that the name works for the research lab and attracting jobs and industry," Somers said.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or ggroff@evtrib.com

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