The federal government has a nice chunk of money, and it's looking to spend some of it here in Spokane. Are we talking good old-fashioned pork? Well, sort of, at least if your company is developing technology that in some way, shape or form can be used to strengthen homeland security.
On Monday, the Inland Northwest Technology Education Center (INTEC) had invited representatives from Avista, Eastern Washington University, Washington State University, Telect, Itron and several other leading regional business and academic organizations to come together at the Davenport Hotel.
The plan was to show representatives of the federal government exactly how much cutting-edge technology is being developed in this area -- and how it can be applied to the homeland security issues the country is currently facing.
The afternoon's keynote speaker was retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who was in charge of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1996 to 2001. McCaffrey now serves as national security and terrorism analyst for NBC News. He runs his own consulting firm out of Virginia.
McCaffrey's main point was that the government should begin looking for technology solutions outside of its usual sources, an idea that was backed by Philip J. Bond, undersecretary for technology in the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration.
"We're here in an attempt to get out to see what the private sector has in terms of homeland security. The world is different from what it was 30 years ago: today, as a general rule, you find the cutting edge of applications in the private sector," Bond said on Monday. "We are here to help hook up the federal government with the private sector."
Bill Kalivas, INTEC vice president for business development, says it was Philip T. Galland, president of the local IT company Spectre AI, who initially alerted him to the expanded business potential within homeland security.
"What Galland was told is that there's an allocation of about $100 million on a national level," says Kalivas. How much of that could the Inland Northwest possibly get its hands on?
"I'd say 10 percent wouldn't be unreasonable. That's still a lot of money," says Kalivas.
Bond said the federal government all too often misses out on great innovations and new applications of technology because it tends to deal with the same big businesses.
"As a procurement officer in the government, you don't get in trouble if you place the contract with Lockheed Marietta or one of the other big companies," he explained, "but you do get in trouble if you place it with a smaller company and then that doesn't work out."
Bond added that many of the most dynamic developers in the information technology world are those who've left the big companies.
"These are the people with great and creative ideas, who end up leaving the bigger companies because they just can't get through with what they are trying to do," said Bond.
But being innovative and creative isn't always enough to get noticed by the federal government -- at least not when it comes to striking good business deals.
"They come out to Washington one by one, and they get lost in the shuffle," said Bond. "That's why this initiative is so good. If you are able to come together as a region and then go to Washington, D.C., instead of coming one at a time, you have a better chance of getting noticed. Especially if what you're doing is being underwritten by a local university. "
Galland's Spectre AI, for instance, develops information technology in the area of Internet safety, data collection and protection, as well as artificial intelligence.
Area companies will get another chance to make a good impression come Feb. 17-18. That's when Bond says his boss, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, will come through Washington and Oregon on a bus tour, making several stops across the two states.
"We did this in the Midwest and it was a huge success," says Bond. "What we are trying to do not only could bring jobs to this area, it lets the government tap into cutting-edge technology we may otherwise not hear about. And it lets us keep America safe at the same time."