Legislature considers military tech center
A group of Democratic state legislators are hoping an infusion of millions of dollars in state funds will help North Carolina companies get into the action of the ballooning anti-terrorism and homeland security industry.
Legislators from Fayetteville introduced legislation in the Senate and House in late March that would draw $3.5 million over the next two years from the state’s general fund to establish a defense technology business incubation center in Cumberland County near the Army’s Fort Bragg, home of the Special Forces Command and the 82nd Airborne Division.
The Defense Technology Innovation Center would help start-up businesses vie for defense dollars.
The bill is based on a business plan submitted by the NC Technology Association. The project’s executive summary points out that North Carolina is home to the three first-strike military bases, including Fort Bragg ‘— the largest in the world. The executive summary says also that federal spending on defense, homeland security and international affairs surged more than 50 percent between 2001 and 2004, or by $193 billion. That jump followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania.
YES! Weekly reported in March that the Tar Heel State ranked dead last for defense spending per capita in a breakdown of spending from the 2005 National Defense Appropriation Act.
‘“The UNC system has huge research and development assets,’” said Caroline Kazmierski, a spokeswoman for the technology association. ‘“We want to leverage that into products. We think that North Carolina should have a military business cluster.’”
The purpose of the Defense Technology Innovation Center is ‘“to create technologies that could be used in the global war on terror,’” along with technologies that could be used by federal intelligence agencies, according to the bill. An earlier draft of the proposal alluded to plans for a ‘homeland security’ business incubator.
Kazmierski declined to offer concrete examples of technologies that might be useful for military, intelligence and homeland security applications, whether it be surveillance and data-mining technology, or products that enhanced the Special Forces’ ability to carry out commando raids. She noted, however, that there is a demand in the armed services for ‘smart textiles”— or textiles with sensors woven into the fabric ‘— and for new kinds of bulletproof body armor. She added that North Carolina is known around the country for its biotechnology industry, and should be more competitive in winning military contracts.
‘“The idea would be to link up some of the start-up companies with a channel partner that would be a quick link for those folks who are scouting for emerging military technologies,’” Kazmierski said. ‘“We want those [Department of Defense] dollars. We want them to scout for technologies in North Carolina.’”
The Defense Technology Innovation Center would need five to ten years to become self-sustaining and operate without government support, Kazmierski said. She suggested that the center would likely operate under a heavy veil of secrecy.
‘“There are going to be some intellectual property issues,’” she said. ‘“ Some people will have to have special [security] clearances. It’s very sensitive work that is proprietary. It would be operated by a non-profit.’”
So far, the bill’s sponsors and co-sponsors are exclusively Democrats. Rep. Bill Faison, a Democrat based in Durham, is one of the co-sponsors.
‘“I’m shocked to hear that no Republicans have signed on to it,’” he said. ‘“I really consider it something to stimulate technology in our state. I don’t see how you could consider it partisan legislation.’”
He acknowledged that any unessential spending will be difficult to pass with the state under tight budget constraints.
House Minority Leader Joe Kiser, who chairs the House Republican caucus, did not return phone calls on March 31. And a spokesman for House Speaker Pro Tempore Richard Morgan said Morgan has not had a chance to look at the bill and form an opinion on it.
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