U.S. funding may boost local firms

Award goes toward collaboration with military

December 02, 2005|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

In 2001, scientists investigating the anthrax contamination at the Hart Senate Office Building faced a nettlesome problem: the sampling kits used cotton swabs or sponges, making multiple samplings virtually impossible, wasting precious time and creating exposure and cross-contamination risks.

The U.S. Army responded with a new, disposable sampling kit - dubbed "BiSKit" - that can sample large areas and a variety of surfaces. But to mass produce it, they turned to the private sector.

Yesterday, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski visited the Aberdeen Proving Ground to announce $1.5 million in federal funding intended to foster cooperation between the military and companies such as the Abingdon-based QuickSilver Analytics Inc., which received $50,000 last year to increase efficient production of BiSKit.

"This is the United States of America, where everything isn't government-owned and -operated," she said. "Innovation has to come on the military and the civilian side."

Last year, the government allotted $1 million toward the establishment of the Aberdeen Technology Transfer Initiative. Twelve companies - including 11 from Maryland - collaborated with the military through the awards, which give shared laboratories and other resources to companies that work with the military to develop new technologies.

With the recent opening of a $46 million chemical defense laboratory, APG has emerged as an important military asset in the war on terrorism. The new lab enables scientists to work safely with such deadly substances as ricin and anthrax.

But the post itself also staved off an attack, fending off job cuts from the Pentagon and luring in 6,100 new government jobs that will make APG the military's central location for weapons testing and research. Private contractors should follow and bring thousands of more jobs.

Most of the military positions will come from Fort Monmouth, N.J. - which fought to block the move, claiming inadequate laboratory space and personnel at APG.

Officials said yesterday that such programs as the technology initiative back up claims that it has the necessary resources.

"Fort Monmouth, who we respect, is an aging base," Mikulski said. "The space they have was not quite as ready as it needed to be. We're not talking about the next five months, the next five years, but the next 50 years. Our infrastructure does exist, and we're well on our way for new types."

The $50,000 awards - while seemingly small in a world of billion-dollar research and testing - was cheered yesterday as necessary "seed money" that links up ideas and gets projects off the ground. It can sometimes make a difference for companies such as QuickSilver, which has only 18 employees and budget considerations.

"Our facilities offer equipment they couldn't afford on their own and helps them develop projects," said Steve Clark, APG's director of business development.

The military benefits from the new technology but can't market products. So the private companies often get a second windfall - QuickSilver has sold about $165,000 worth of the units back to the military.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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