LOWELL -- To capitalize on a new, state-funded $80 million nanotechnology manufacturing research center, city business and political leaders must get the word out about opportunities available here.
That was the message given yesterday during a special breakfast presentation at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, sponsored by the Lowell Plan, a local economic development think tank.
U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan and state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos joined David MacKenzie, the University of Massachusetts Lowell's interim chancellor, in telling almost 100 business and political leaders about the potential benefits of the new research center, which is being funded by $70 million in state and university funds and $10 million in private donations.
Rather than focus on the pure science of nanotechnology -- which involves the use of infinitesimal components and devices -- UMass Lowell's center will research how to mass produce nano-engineered products.
Advocates argue that only three other states are funding similar nano-manufacturing research, and doing so will make Greater Lowell an ideal location for companies that need to bring their nano- and bio-engineered projects to market.
"Without the high-speed, high-volume manufacturing, there really is no economic benefit" to companies' research, Panagiotakos said, adding that the industry is "on the cusp of an explosion in products."
Yesterday's key message was that the National Science Foundation estimates that nano-engineered items and products will account for $1 trillion in sales and around two million jobs by 2015.
State officials estimate that the new center will allow Massachusetts to attract up to 10 new manufacturing plants and 8,000 jobs in the biotech industry alone.
"We need to all work together to plan how the university and the city can take advantage of this new opportunity to become a 21st century city," Panagiotakos said.
Meehan noted that many companies are unaware of the nano-manufacturing research that is under way even now at UMass Lowell.
During a question-and-answer session, Robert L. Culver, president and CEO of MassDevelopment -- a quasi-public state agency that is charged with overseeing large development projects, including redevelopment of the former Fort Devens Army base -- agreed with that assessment.
"It's companies like Cabot and others in the region that deal with fine particle products who may move to nano-based products that may tremendously benefit from the University of Massachusetts Lowell center," said Culver, a former chief financial officer of Cabot Corp., a Boston-based provider of carbon paper products that has a research and development facility in Billerica.
He added that startups will be helped as well.
An exact location for the center has yet to be chosen. A report on a recommended site is expected sometime in March.