Anybody who commutes on a daily basis on Clyde Morris Boulevard through Daytona Beach has probably seen it.
It’s an odd-shaped structure on the edge of the Daytona International Airport and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The front of the building has a large spherical shape to it that a driving passerby couldn’t miss.
The structure is ERAU’s John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Complex – or MicaPlex -- and what is inside the building could be the future of commercial aviation and the reason why Volusia County is becoming a major player in the multi-billion dollar global space economy.
Home to many students and employees, the MicaPlex, named after former U.S. Rep. John Mica, opened in March 2017 after 10 years of planning and construction. It has three primary purposes.
The first is to attract industry to Volusia County, something the complex has done exceedingly well.
Anybody who has taken a gander at the Research Park’s sign in front of the MicaPlex while driving on Clyde Morris has seen the large list of logos on it. Those are the logos of 18 partner companies that have formed relationships with ERAU in the name of research, and not all of them are solely dedicated to airplanes. The partners range from aerospace giant Boeing to International Speedway Corp., the owner of Daytona International Speedway.
“Within all those companies there is a common denominator of technology, aviation and aerospace,” said Rodney Cruise, senior vice president of administrations and planning. “You would probably never drive by and see ‘Joe’s Hot Sauce’ up there.”
The list continues to grow. In June, ERAU announced a new partnership with global communications powerhouse Arralis in an effort to bring new high-paying jobs to the area.
“Arralis is delighted to venture into the United States market through setting up a facility in Volusia County in Daytona Beach,” said Mike Gleaves, CEO of the UK company. “We found this to be the ideal location for a fast-growing, high-tech company like ourselves.”
The MicaPlex’s second purpose is to provide high-tech labs and equipment for students and faculty, and with 50,000 square feet of lab space, 10,000 square feet of flex-lease space and 5,000 square feet of specialized incubation space, ERAU’s first building of its Research Park has no problem doing that.
“We continue to invest in equipment,” Mr. Cruise said. “We continue to outfit these facilities with the latest and greatest equipment not only for our students, faculty, and staff to use, but also for our industry partners.”
One such piece of equipment is their new Hybrid-Electric Propulsion Test Cell, which will be used to find better, more efficient fuel systems for aerospace engines than fossil fuels. Think of a Toyota Prius, but for airplanes.
Finally, the third purpose is to create high-paying jobs, not just for ERAU students, but for the community as well, something the school took into account when it announced plans to expand its Research Park Tuesday, Aug. 6.
In only three years of operation, the MicaPlex has created 76 internships and 33 full-time jobs at an average salary of $60,000, and the school plans on building on it.
Projects such as the Hybrid-Electric Test Cell are offering opportunities for students to develop the skills required to enter the growing aviation industry in Florida and for more companies to partner with the facility in a mission for more research.
“There’s a really unique correlation between where a student has an internship and where they make their home,” Mr. Cruise said. “Those students hopefully become full-time employees and they stay here locally with us.
“The aviation/aerospace business in Florida is booming, so when (those students) walk across the stage of our Daytona Beach campus, we hope there is an opportunity for them to stay right here.”