After the Great Recession devastated the casino industry, there's been a push in Nevada to diversify the economy.

That might have you thinking, and rightly so, high-tech, innovation, the internet and youth.

But the Air Force and its rigid military structure?

As part of an effort to bring innovation faster to the military, the Air Force has opened a high-tech hub in Las Vegas.

AFWERX-Vegas is the focal point of the Air Force's attempt to partner with private industry as it seeks ways to improve a variety of military needs.

“There is this aspiration inside the Air Force that things could be done quicker,” AFWERX-Vegas director Mark Rowland told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Rowland said AFWERX-Vegas is described as the storefront to the Air Force. It is really a connecting point between the private tech industry, startup companies, small businesses and other innovators and the military.

“The main goal is to bring in these startups, these small businesses, get to know them, have a look at their potential solution, introduce them to various people from the security forces or all military strands," Rowland said.

For example, AFWERX-Vegas recently took up the problem of the security of permanent and temporary bases and assets like fuel or missiles. 

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After getting to the heart of some of the problems with keeping those assets secure, they created an open innovation challenge and asked people from around the world to submit ideas. 

They received 170 entries and of those 50 are being considered as solutions for problems from cybersecurity needs to physical barriers.

While AFWERX is affiliated with the Air Force, its employees are not members of the military and are not government employees. 

Rowland said that allows them to get around some of the red tape and procedures that are required by the government. 

“They needed a conduit to the non-traditional industry. That’s where the hub comes in,” Rowland said.

And as for Las Vegas being chosen for the hub, Rowland said it makes perfect sense. He said Nellis Air Force Base, UNLV, McCarran International Airport, proximity to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and plentiful hotel rooms are all reasons why Southern Nevada makes perfect sense.

Rowland also believes the hub could draw people to Las Vegas.

“We’re hoping this will actually be a very good benefit for Las Vegas that it could actually attract companies, startups, people with ideas,” he said.

Rowland said his team and the Air Force is looking for real results from this hub. He said his goal is to produce solutions within 18 months.

“We didn’t just host a lot of events. We didn’t just collaborate with a whole bunch of people," he said, "We actually got solutions and those solutions either saved lives, saved money, sped things up, increased safety, that’s what we’re focused on.”

Rowland is the former chief executive officer for the Downtown Project, which was another ambitious innovation project funded by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.


Mark Rowland, director, AFWERX -Vegas

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KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada