The status of cybersecurity as an industry of the future is all but certain. What is less certain is how the Washington region will position itself to be the world’s cyber capital and how we will train the next generation of cyber warriors.
With global capitals, such as London, increasingly competing for cyber jobs and investment, it’s time to pursue a thoughtful, yet aggressive blueprint to build a global “Cyber Valley” in Washington. Here are five ideas to help us get there:
1. Build regional partnerships. The region has distinct advantages for growing the cyber market. From Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade in Maryland to Richmond in the south, our region boasts a high concentration of federal agencies, world-renown research institutions, a burgeoning entrepreneurial community and the most educated workforce in the nation. We must foster coordination among these assets to create a single cyber-hub that is unmatched anywhere in the world.
2. Modernize university offerings. Most cybersecurity experts today are self-taught, since the industry they now dominate was nonexistent when they were in school. But demand for cyber professionals is so high today — there are an estimated 10,000 cyber job openings in our region alone — that employers cannot find adequately trained workers to fill the need. With the assets in our region, we need to encourage partnerships between higher education and federal and commercial employers to create relevant cyber curricula, establish mentorships and build employment pipelines that keep our best students in our region after they graduate.
3. Commercialize new discoveries. The cyber market is a difficult place to sell. Government sales cycles are frustratingly slow, making it difficult for bootstrapping entrepreneurs to take a great idea to market. To bridge the gap, we must match the game-changing technologies found in start-ups with the market clout of large cyber companies through formal partnerships. The region’s incubator community has a role to play, as well, in fostering opportunities for entrepreneurs. In Maryland, specifically, there are numerous programs. For example, Lockheed Martin and the University of Maryland partnered to create the Maryland Cybersecurity Center to provide educational programs to prepare the future cybersecurity workforce to help defend against cybersecurity attacks.
4. Grow commercial markets. Government is the foremost buyer of cybersecurity services in our region today, but the private sector is also a rapidly growing market. Financial institutions, utilities, online retailers and media companies are all vulnerable to cyber thugs, who are intent on stealing troves of customer data or interrupting critical services. We must position the region to capture the business-t0-business market as effectively as it has captured the business-to-government market.
5. Improve tax policy. It is imperative that policymakers create a climate of consistency and certainty for the tech community. The average business tax climate ranking of our three jurisdictions — Maryland, Virginia and the District — is 37th in the nation, according to a recent study by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. We can do better. Regional policymakers must pursue a fair, consistent and competitive tax climate that balances job creation with budgetary responsibility. Maryland itself is rich with the resources that are needed to become dominant in fighting cyber crime. However, now is the time that we must pool our resources with those of neighbors, which bring many of the same enviable assets to the market, so we can solidify the D.C region’s role as the world’s “Cyber Valley.”
Philip Schiff is chief executive of the Tech Council of Maryland, Maryland’s largest trade association for bioscience and technology companies.