Well-known contractors have flocked to Fort Meade — home to the new U.S. Cyber Command as well as the National Security Agency and the Defense Information Systems Agency — and defense firms have been buying smaller cyber-focused entities to bolster their resumes.
For Maryland officials and backers, the moment looks right for the state to not only become the home base of a potentially very lucrative industry but also to take on rival Northern Virginia.
Known for its dot-com success — and subsequent collapse — and for the numerous IT-focused contractors lining the Tysons Corner and Dulles corridors, Northern Virginia has long dominated the IT field, particularly in the defense sector. Maryland, on the other hand, has been more focused on biotechnology.
But the state now says it has the resources to be the cybersecurity epicenter. Besides Fort Meade, the state is also home to the Gaithersburg-based National Institute of Standards and Technology, which sets federal cyber standards. Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport also isn’t far from Fort Meade.
“If we screw this up, we’ve got a problem,” said Larry Letow, chairman of the Tech Council of Maryland’s board of directors and a founder of Maryland Cyber Investment Partners, which funds cybersecurity businesses. “We have everything that we need to take advantage of this.”
State and local officials are vowing that they won’t let the moment pass them by. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) issued a report called CyberMaryland early last year that set a state agenda for creating a cyber epicenter. Since then, state officials have zeroed in on particular areas of focus, including cultivating a skilled workforce and making sure companies outside the state are aware of Maryland’s resources.
“We really want to pitch our state as a very robust environment for this industry,” said Ursula Powidzki, a program director in Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development. “We’d like to be the Silicon Valley of cyber on the East Coast, so I think the focus is really, how do we make sure that the Maryland cyber industry is as entrepreneurial as possible, is as welcoming an environment as possible.”
The state has had no trouble attracting well-known contractors — many of whom are based in Northern Virginia. McLean-based Science Applications International Corp., for instance, has touted the cyber center it built near Fort Meade, while Northrop Grumman — soon to be based in Falls Church — has established a cybersecurity incubator program with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, whose campus is 10 miles from Fort Meade.