An 'incredible opportunity' for would-be Army contractors

As 'C4ISR' moves to the region, its conference comes to Baltimore

August 23, 2010|By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun

An Army command moving its headquarters to Aberdeen Proving Ground spends twice as much a year on goods and services as every agency in Maryland's state government combined.

Of course, contractors want in on this.

They are expected to gather by the hundreds in downtown Baltimore Tuesday for a conference that connects the Communications-Electronics Command — and other high-tech Army organizations that together are known as C4ISR — with a range of companies hoping to do business with them. And that's not just the defense-contractor crowd. The C4ISR organizations need other help, too, from information-technology support to accounting.

"This is a great way of getting your foot in the door," said Chris Moyer, director of business development with the Baltimore Development Corp., which is sharing its booth at the conference with several city firms.

The C4ISR Symposium & Expo is taking place at the Baltimore Convention Center for the first time this week after eight years in Atlantic City, closer to the organizations' New Jersey base of operations. The Army commands are in the process of relocating to Aberdeen in Harford County as part of BRAC, the Pentagon's base realignment and closure effort.

Lisa A. Swoboda, deputy director of the Maryland economic development department's Office of Military & Federal Affairs, called the conference an "incredible opportunity."

With C4ISR come not only thousands of jobs but billions in contracting dollars. The Communications-Electronics Command alone has a procurement budget of $12 billion to $14 billion a year. Maryland's state government, by contrast, spent $5.9 billion last fiscal year on all its contracts, from office products to road work.

Jerry Wit, a senior vice president at St. John Properties, a Woodlawn-based developer of business parks, attended the conference for the first time last year and was struck by how contractors pulled out all the stops. One company put a tank on display; another brought a helicopter.

"I was just amazed at the attendance and the elaborateness," said Wit, whose firm is building an office campus just outside Aberdeen Proving Ground. "They bring the big guns in for this."

Businesses can expect a windfall for Aberdeen and surrounding areas, said Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va.

"Aberdeen will become the main locus of activity for buying all U.S. Army communications and electronics equipment," he said. "This will be a huge boost to the local economy."

KatzAbosch is hoping for a bit of that boost. The Timonium-based accounting firm is attending this week to scope out the possibilities for itself and its government-contractor clients.

"We're going to be on the lookout," said co-founder Alvin Katz.

The conference is a tangible example of the hope of BRAC. The ramp-up now underway after years of planning comes as Maryland is struggling to dig out of the deep national recession.

"I just think it might result in an economic turnaround for our state," said Dori Perry, director of governmental contracting at KatzAbosch. "It's exciting for our clients and exciting for us."

Among more than 100 exhibitors at the conference are many companies with offices or headquarters in Maryland — from Live Baltimore, a nonprofit that wants BRAC workers to settle in the city, to Corporate Office Properties Trust, a Columbia real estate investment trust that specializes in secure offices for government contractors.

Brian Garmey's cybersecurity software startup in Baltimore, Lookingglass Cyber Solutions, is one of the companies sharing a booth with the BDC, the city's economic-development arm. Lookingglass has contracts with federal agencies but not with the organizations headed to Aberdeen. Garmey is hoping to change that.

He would like to make some contacts in the Army, of course. But he's also interested in connecting with the large defense firms that subcontract work out.

"I'm hoping to just do some networking," Garmey said. "It's a very good opportunity for any local businesses that want to work with the big vendors, the big system innovators. Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics — those guys are all going to be there."

Northrop Grumman Corp., one of those big players, makes a point of attending every year. "This is a very important customer … so it's an important conference for us," said Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the defense contractor.

C4ISR stands for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, a mouthful, so the initials are often used. The Army organizations under that umbrella handle defense information-technology work ranging from communications-electronics to signals intelligence.

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