The Department of Defense's Office of Economic Adjustment recently awarded the six New England states a joint $1.5 million grant for defense industry collaboration. Vermont is coordinating the regional effort to help small and medium-sized businesses understand what’s necessary to land defense contracts. “The idea of the grant is to help foster coordination between all six New England states in the area supporting defense-related businesses,” said Brett Long, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development, which is overseeing the project. The grant will fund three contracts. One will be used to hire a program manager, who may or may not be located in Vermont. A second contract is earmarked for cybersecurity assistance to defense contractors while the third contract will be used to create a trusted supplier network between larger defense contractors and their subcontractors. “The large companies complain that they want to subcontract more work but can’t find companies that are qualified and have the certifications necessary to do it," Long said. "And the small companies complain that they can’t figure out how to break in to win business from the larger contractors.” Long said the state has identified more then 100 defense-related businesses with at least 10 percent of sales related to defense work. Some of the major defense contractors include GE Aviation, General Dynamics, Revision Military and United Technologies. Revision Military, based in Essex Junction, sells protective eyewear and ballistic helmets to the military and police departments. Greg Maguire, Revision’s senior director of legal and government affairs, said there are differences between the private sector and the government sector when bidding on contracts. Because public money is involved, he said there is greater accountability and oversight that makes the process more complex. Revision made the shift from the civilian market when it saw a need for military protective eyewear. Maguire said Revision hired people familiar with the intricacies of government contract work. “There was quite a hefty investment made up front to obtain this knowledge and hire people who had this knowledge,” he said. Early on, he said, the company was also fortunate to have the help of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who assisted the company as it focused on military contracts. With its protective eyewear firmly established, Revision expanded its product line to ballistic helmets, which are made at the company’s plant in Newport. While the learning curve for Defense Department contracts can be time consuming and takes some investment, Maguire said the benefits make the effort worthwhile. “Once you do have the customer, that being government, and you are meeting their needs and doing it well … as long as you’re performing, you will usually have a loyal customer” over the long haul, he said. Revision also relies on subcontractors to provide materials for its products. Maguire said qualified government subcontractors ensure that the company fulfills its contract obligations. “Often, when we’re seeking suppliers, we’re seeking suppliers who are knowledgeable and have that track record and knowledge base with regard to being a government supplier,” he said. New Hampshire has identified 350 aerospace and defense contractors, which represents 2 percent of the Granite State’s gross domestic product, according to Nathaniel Nelson, international trade officer with the Department of Business and Economic Affairs. Nelson said the six-state collaborative effort will help companies engaged in defense work foster and strengthen partnerships on a regional level. “We’re excited because a lot of these small businesses … don’t have the resources or expertise sometimes needed to help them grow,” he said. Nelson said working through the military contract process can be daunting for a small business. He said based on the state’s previous experience, that process is made easier when companies share resources and expertise. Long said the cybersecurity piece of the work is critical for defense businesses to meet new cybersecurity guidelines issued by the National Institute for Science and Technology. He said the new standards are intended to help companies identify “where they have met cybersecurity expectations and where they might have gaps in cybersecurity expectations.” In a joint statement, Leahy and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said the “grant will allow Vermont’s many small and medium-sized defense-related businesses to coordinate growth with similar supply chain businesses throughout New England, leading to larger government contracts and greater economic opportunity for Vermonters.” For more information, contact Brett Long at 461-9353 or brett.long@vermont.gov.

The Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment  provides grants to help state and local governments respond to changes, including base closure or realignment, defense contracting, and land use compatibility with the military. The focus is on defense-related small and medium-sized manufacturers to improve competitiveness and the ability to innovate. For more information, visit http://www.oea.gov/grants.

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