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Homeland Security Is Where the Money Is - 2002-07-18

The new emphasis on Homeland Security in the United States, has prompted a major increase in government spending. And that, in turn, has encouraged thousands of U.S. businesses to create new products in hopes of capturing a share of a lucrative new market.

First of all, there are new technologies, such as devices that identify people by scanning their eyes or the contours of their faces, or that are capable of detecting counterfeit identification cards. Then there are the switch-overs - companies that have figured out a way to come up with security uses for products that originally had other purposes. A producer of hospital X-ray equipment, for example, has created a mobile unit that can see inside trucks.

And then there are new partnerships. Anthony Lombardo, president of the health equipment company E-Z-EM," says his firm has joined with a Canadian defense company to create a foam that can neutralize biological terror agents.

"I think a lot of people look at how they can reinvent themselves," Mr. Lombardo said. "Here's a significant amount of revenue being invested and a wide array of products. So there are lots of opportunities to get in and create."

Mr. Lombardo says U.S. business has always been entrepreneurial, quick to change to take advantage of new opportunities. Most recently, he says, it was the computer revolution that spurred reinvention. "It was a great place to be in software development, a great place to be in Internet space," he said, "so lots of folks started looking at applications in those areas and how they could turn themselves into providers."

Also competing for government dollars are companies that have always been in the security business. Ralph Nasatka, President of Nasatka Barriers, says it's been a long time since he developed his firm's product - a blockade that pops out of the ground electronically to force cars to stop.

"I was at the FBI," Mr. Nasatka recounted. "A gentleman said: 'We want to put barriers in the driveways.' I said: 'For what?' He said: 'We'll stop vehicles.' So I monkeyed with it. I made a model, brought it in. The Director of the FBI said: 'Build them.' I built six units 25 years ago."

Mr. Nasatka's company has built similar barriers at Federal buildings all over Washington, and is now getting orders from other countries. "When we give an example that we have done the White House, their comment is, if you can do that, you can do ours," he said. "In Italy a company wants to sell for us. We've got another company in Germany we're meeting this week." Now that security concerns are getting top priority, Mr. Nasatka expects business to boom.