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House speaker seeks DoD, NASA offices for home folks

House speaker seeks DoD, NASA offices for home folks

The clout of DuPage County, Ill., which already counted House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde among its voices on Capitol Hill, increased immeasurably earlier this year when Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., was elevated overnight from chief deputy majority whip to House speaker.

It now appears that Hastert's new-found power is about to bring tangible rewards to the suburban Chicago county: Efforts are under way to land two federally funded technology offices as anchors of a research and development park proposed for a parcel of vacant property at DuPage Airport in the town of West Chicago.

The Chicago Tribune late last week quoted sources as saying that Hastert and his staff have been working quietly for months to persuade NASA and the Defense Department to locate offices at the airport site, which is just north of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, a major employer for Hastert's constituents.

The anchors of the R&D center would be specialized centers to find commercial uses for technologies developed by NASA and DoD. NASA has a number of offices or affiliates throughout the United States, although none in Illinois, that provide assistance to business and industry in accessing and using its technology.

Funding for the two offices, about $8 million, could be included this summer in the pending fiscal 2000 Defense and VA-HUD appropriations bills, sources told the newspaper.

Tom Thornton, president of the not-for-profit Illinois Coalition, told CongressDaily Monday that the $8 million Hastert has committed to finding would be split among the University of Illinois, which would get $2 million, and NASA and DoD.

The three entities each would establish a branch in currently unoccupied space in the flight center of DuPage Airport, a facility used only by corporate aircraft.

The money would be used to furnish, equip and staff what would become technology transfer centers, Thornton added.

With Fermilab less than a mile to the south and Argonne Laboratory 10 miles away, the overall federal technical and research presence could be a catalyst for a new research park, envisioned on several hundred vacant acres owned by the airport that now serve as a buffer between runways and the surrounding community.

Thornton's organization is choosing a consultant to conduct a state-financed study on the feasibility of establishing a DuPage Research Park that could attract high tech companies to the vacant land.

Among models that Thornton is considering is the Research Triangle Park in the Raleigh-Durham area and the Torrey Pines Science Park in San Diego. DuPage County ranks second only to neighboring Cook County in the number of high tech companies in Illinois.

Hastert is not working on building the park, Thornton said. Rather, the speaker is working on bringing in the new federal offices to help make successful a new park that would draw from the entire Midwest, Thornton added.

The site of the proposed research park has been at the center of controversy twice in recent years.

About three years ago, auto racing interests looked at the 700-acre parcel as a potential location for a motor speedway, until community opposition and higher-than-expected development costs forced them to abandon the idea.

Equally controversial was a later proposal by the Union Pacific Railroad to build a giant rail facility on the site.

Then, last fall, prior to his election as speaker, Hastert suggested that the property be used for a high tech research and development center, in part to take advantage of Fermilab's resources.