Illinois Makes Effort to Be a Player in Homeland Security Industry

SPRINGFIELD - The state's latest efforts to court the homeland security industry are focused in Champaign-Urbana this week, as industry experts gather to discuss "Developing Technologies for the Homeland Security Market."

The conference, scheduled for Thursday at the University of Illinois' Information Trust Institute, is the second in a series designed to help Illinois businesses identify and take advantage of market opportunities in the homeland security industry.

The first, "Market Opportunities in Food Security," was held in June and attracted more than 200 attendees. Two more conferences are planned: one on transportation security and one focused on manufacturing.

The events were organized by the new Homeland Security Market Development Bureau within the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The bureau's mission is to grow and attract businesses involved in the homeland security industry, and help innovations developed at the University of Illinois and elsewhere get into the marketplace.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced plans for the bureau in his State of the State address in February.

"This is a growing industry, and the products we need to keep America safe should be made right here in Illinois," the governor said then.

In addition to the conferences, the bureau launched a Homeland Security Procurement Technical Assistance Center in August, which helps Illinois businesses get public or private contracts in the homeland security arena.

According to Matthew Summy, the state's deputy director of homeland security market development, the center has an active roster of 30 Illinois companies that have become certified clients, and another two dozen or so waiting to be screened.

Once the companies become certified clients, the center can match them up with bid opportunities through customized software that checks for new listings on a daily or weekly basis, Summy said.

Within its first month of operation, the center had already had one success, albeit a small one: Mission Thermal Infrared won a contract with the Air Force, which created one job that pays $75,000, Summy said.

"This is a resource for Illinois businesses to use now," he said. "Illinois is the only state using economic development principles to generate jobs and business opportunity in homeland security."

The Homeland Security Market Development Bureau has six employees dedicated to that effort, including a person based in Washington, D.C., who started last month.

That person's job is "to help Illinois companies understand how to do business with defense contractors in and around the D.C. area as well as the federal government," Summy said.

Back in Illinois, the other members of the bureau are using tools that are already in the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's arsenal to help companies looking to break into or expand their presence in the homeland security market.

"We have finance programs, training programs, tax credit programs and grants available to businesses right away, and additional tools are under development," Summy said. "Part of our role to date is to work with businesses to understand what financial packages they might need to push further into this industry, so those tools are under development but forthcoming."

The administration's efforts to court the homeland security industry are still relatively new, and it seems too early to tell how successful they might be.

The Illinois Development Council, an association of economic development professionals from around the state, is sending members to the conference in Champaign-Urbana this week, but has yet to take a formal position on the issue.

"Illinois Development Council is working cooperatively with DCEO in support of this conference and their efforts in this area," said Pamela Tolson, the organization's executive director. "At this point, it is too soon to really take any position on how the program is working."

J. Fred Giertz, a professor of economics the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs, also said it was too soon to tell.

"Whether it works or not, we'll just have to wait and see," he said.

The fact that there is significant money being spent on homeland security and Illinois would like it to be spent here is not enough to make it happen, Giertz said.

"Typically, it's not just a matter of wanting to do it, it's a matter of does the state have the background and expertise and infrastructure to build on," he said. "If we don't, it's probably going to be difficult to develop that fast enough."