North Carolina defense trade show 'all about connection'
By MICHAEL FUTCH | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: August 8, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson presented a "snapshot" of U.S. Army Forces Command, including its role and priorities in today's Armed Forces, during a welcome breakfast Monday that kicked off the 16th annual N.C. Defense and Economic Development Trade Show.
Chances are, the majority of the 275 people on hand already had a firm grasp of Forscom, whose collective force counts the U.S. Army, U.S. Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserves.
Many of those in attendance on the campus of Fayetteville Technical Community College were active-duty soldiers, veterans and business men and women who partner with the military to expand the nation's defense capabilities. These service and product providers included representatives of Quantico Tactical; TSE, or Tactical Support System; LBA Group; Northrop Grumman; Aiken Instruments; and Touchpoint International Development Groups.
The one-day event gave military contractors, federal agencies, defense contracting firms and the state's small businesses an opportunity to network. Also on site were educational workshops, static displays, demonstrations of military equipment and a slew of vendors who had set up tables in the primary exhibit area inside the Horace Sisk Building.
Many of the vendors stayed busy, fielding questions and peddling their products with pamphlets and pens to those who inched their way through what at times were gridlocked aisles.
Richardson called the trade show "a very important event for North Carolina, the business community, industry and the military. We, at Forces Command, see a wonderful relationship between the U.S. Army and the N.C. business community as a vital component in America's national security partnership."
Business and civic leaders often ask the military how they can help, she said. In terms of the Army, needed support includes trying to protect science and technology and sustaining incremental upgrades for today's military equipment.
"These are hugely important," she said, "in order to stay ahead of the technology advances of 'our near-peer adversaries.'"
Scott Dorney, executive director of the N.C. Military Business Center, said 751 people preregistered for the show. Afterward, he estimated the crowd at more than 700.
"It's all about connection," Dorney said. "Connecting businesses with contracting officials, connecting businesses with other businesses so they can bid on federal contracts."
Tactical Support Equipment in Fayetteville was founded in 1999. This marked the company's second year at the trade show.
"It's a good networking opportunity," said Mark Conneway, director of training for the business. "The briefings in the morning are usually very good for discovering new programs the state is doing for small business. ... Some of our partners we already have in the defense industry were already there. We met new manufacturing reps. Talked about things we've been outsourcing outside the state that, hopefully, we can find closer to home. I think overall it was very good."
As a military marketplace, Dorney said, North Carolina has the best infrastructure of any state in the country to help small businesses get started and to grow and to leverage new markets.
For WorldWide Language Resources, one of the largest defense contractors in the city, a presence at the show was more about supporting other organizations on hand, according to Ron Haynes, the company's vice president for business development.
"We do business at Fort Bragg," he said. "We just want to continue that community presence."
Before understanding the importance of the trade show, Dorney said during his remarks at breakfast that you have to understand the importance of the military in North Carolina. More than 116,000 active-duty military personnel are stationed in the state at a half-dozen major military installations. He noted that 10 percent of the Army alone, is assigned to North Carolina.
"The military has a $66 billion impact annually on the economy in North Carolina," he said. "That makes it the second-largest sector of our state's economy. About 12 percent of our state GNP (Gross National Product). What does that mean for defense contracting? About $2 1/2 billion in prime defense contracts are executed in North Carolina on an annual basis. And when you look at all federal agencies, including Homeland Security and the Coast Guard ... about $5 billion in prime defense contracts are executed here in the state."
Also prominent among the lineup of speakers was Robert Wilkie, who serves as the senior advisor to U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. On July 19, President Donald Trump nominated the 54-year-old Wilkie for a high-ranking defense position. His confirmation hearing is anticipated for the second week of September.
If confirmed, Wilkie — who was born in Germany and raised in Fayetteville — will be appointed under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Wilkie, who has more than 20 years of experience on the national and international level, said he had spent the last two years learning from Tillis. But he told the crowd that he had come "to this business" with the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, a staunch conservative from North Carolina who advocated for a strong military.
"He said, 'Always look at national security affairs through the prism of North Carolina highway 24. The eastern end is 45 percent of the entire United States Marine Corps and this end, Fort Bragg, is the hub of the universe,' " Wilkie recalled.
Wilkie spoke of what he described as the decline of the size and readiness of this nation's military, saying the country's challenge is to change the way it conducts daily business.
"We are engaged in a twilight struggle with forces who see nothing less than the destruction of civilization," he said.
Staff writer Michael Futch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.