Monday, November 19, 2007

Michigan wants a piece of the homeland security pie

Homeland security is big business and the Michigan Homeland Security Consortium (MIHSC) wants to bring more of it to Michigan. The group plans to stimulate economic growth by getting funding opportunities for young companies.

"There is lots of opportunity and pioneering in the homeland security sector. It is ripe for innovation," said Keith Brophy, chairman and co-founder of MIHSC, a nonprofit, trade organization started in June of 2006.  "We realized that for this industry to get off the ground, the private sector would have to give it momentum." Although the state's 21st Century Jobs Fund targets homeland security for growth, MIHSC is creating additional venture capital opportunities for new companies.

Last week, MIHSC unveiled the Homeland Security Resource Fund, a joint venture with Battle Creek Unlimited (BCU), a regional economic development organization.  The new fund will provide money and guidance to homeland security companies in Michigan.  "We want to help create synergy in economic development." said Jack Miner, Battle Creek Ventures managing director.  "We want to do everything we can in Battle Creek to help develop the business of homeland security and having this fund creates another asset."

On Dec. 4, MIHSC will host its 2nd annual Michigan Homeland Security Venture & Angel Capital Symposium at Cleary University, in Howell, featuring keynote speaker Dick DeVos. MIHSC expects at least 100 attendees.

Homeland security spending is growing nationally. In "What Has Homeland Security Cost? An Assessment: 2001-2005,"  The Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimated "that homeland security spending climbed from $56.0 billion in 2001 to $99.5 billion in 2005."

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 anticipated this boom. In addition to defining the mission of the Department of Homeland Security, a subsection of the act created liability protection for makers and sellers of "qualified anti-terrorism technologies." Today, the Department of Homeland Security website Open for Business portal "centralizes information to let every business in America know how to work with the Department of Homeland Security."

MIHSC has support in Lansing and Washington, D.C.  U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg and state Sens. Valde Garcia and Cameron Brown all spoke at the announcement of the Resource Fund.  Brown and Garcia are chair and vice chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Emerging Technologies Committee, respectively. Garcia also chairs the Michigan Homeland Security Roundtable for MIHSC.

During this current economic slump, making the case for any new business in Michigan is an easy sell. Still, advocates for homeland security evoke the glory of Michigan's past to justify current homeland security development. They conflate mobilization for World War II with increasing homeland security business now.

"We will soon be celebrating Dec. 7th, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day," Brown said. "That unprovoked attack led Michigan to be in the forefront of the Allied mobilization to stop Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Michigan became known as the Arsenal of Democracy." Linking past and present, he concluded, "The Michigan Senate's new Homeland Security and Emerging Technologies Committee, of which Sen. Garcia is vice chair, was created last January with the goal of improving public safety but also to return Michigan to its leadership role in the homeland security sector."

Closing his remarks, Garcia said, "Michigan needs to be known as the Arsenal of Democracy."

Brophy's view is more pragmatic: "We just need more state government recognition that this is a sector worth fostering."