Getting your slice of the stimulus pie

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Monday, June 1, 2009

WASHINGTON--You want a piece of the $787 billion stimulus package? According to security industry experts who work with the federal government, many security and fire installers and integrators should be able to take advantage of some of these funds, but it’s not going to happen without doing a little homework. And while funds that can be used for security may not be available for weeks or months, now is the time to start doing some research.

Where to look? Industry groups like SIA and the NBFAA are a good place to start. With seasoned Capitol Hill veterans on staff, these organizations can help installers figure out where the funds are flowing and how to track them. Another option for installers is manufacturers. GE Security and AMAG Technologies, for example, are actively seeking information about the availability of funds and projects.

“A lot of companies are under the misperception that the stimulus package is a security funding bill; it is not,” said Don Erickson, director of government relations for SIA. “It’s a bill that’s intended to create jobs and stimulate the economy,” he explained.

However, stimulus funds will be spent on port security, transit security, airport security, and more. They will be spent in schools, and private sector businesses - places where installers may already do business or that may be in their footprint.

People in the security industry “should not be discouraged, but they need to be patient and strategic and do their due diligence,” Erickson said. “A lot of the funds haven’t gone out the door. This is not going to be over in June; it’s going to take several months.”

On a basic level, the funds will be dispersed either through the states, or through government agencies.

Funds that are distributed by individual states will be given to those “shovel-ready” projects, most of which made applications months ago to the state.

Erickson and John Chwat, legislative director for the NBFAA, encouraged installers to take a look at those applications to see if any of their customers, or people within their geographic reach, have submitted applications. If they have, installers should contact those customers directly.

Installers can contact the state directly, too. They should also pay attention to Web sites for the National League of Cities and the National Conference of Mayors.

In the case of funds going through government agencies, the agencies must issue what’s called “guidance,” which explains how the funds may be used. This is where installers can find out whether a portion of a grant may be used for security purposes. Where do you find this information? In many cases, noted Erickson, agencies have not yet issued guidance. The main Web site for information about stimulus funds is www.recovery.gov. However, the NBFAA (www.alarm.org) and SIA (www.siaonline.org) both have information targeted to the security industry on their Web sites.

SIA updates its Web site weekly with information and “links to every federal and state agency that administers stimulus funds and links to reports [from those agencies],” Erickson said.

It may not be the kind of marketing that security and fire installers are accustomed to, Chwat acknowledged. “They’ve got to look outside the box,” he said. Chwat said that in Fairfax County, Va., an apprenticeship program has applied for funds. Chwat and the Virginia Burglar & Fire Alarm Association are hoping, if the training program gets the $250,000 it applied for, that it can help train electricians, HVAC, and plumbers who are out of work, to work as security installers. Noting that the stimulus bill is aimed at job creation, this is the type of creative approach people in the security industry need to adopt.

Installers may also want to inquire with major manufacturers they work with about stimulus projects. GE Security, for one, is actively investigating opportunities. It has the advantage, noted Arlene Borkowski, chief marketing officer for GE Security, of having worked with the federal government for a long time. She reiterated the importance of understanding the process. GE Security has a cross-functional team that has a conference call once a week to talk about opportunities across the country. She said that some channel partners who are located in a state capital or near Washington, DC, or who do a lot of work with border security or prisons, may have an easier time taking advantage of stimulus funds.

“We are very fortunate that we have a great deal of experience dealing with the federal government,” she said. However, GE Security is “looking to its channel partners [for information and leads on opportunities] as much as they’re looking to us. It’s not something we’re doing independently. We work hand in hand with our partners.”

AMAG is working on finding projects at the federal, state and local level for its resellers through its lead generation program. Lanya Sydorick, AMAG director of marketing, said that once funds are awarded for local and regional projects, “we hope to find specific contact people, details of the project and pass that information along to our resellers.”