General lauds Lab, small biz impact
Combining her community memories with praise for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Rome site where she once was stationed, four-star Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski outlined benefits Tuesday of linking small business and military innovations.
As commander of the Air Force Materiel Command that includes the overall AFRL and manages $60 billion annually, Pawlikowski said “you’d think my focus would be on big business” which does “get a significant portion” of the command’s budget for contracts.
“But small business is equally important” to the command, added Pawlikowski, noting it “does a lot to help us” including the agility to quickly respond to needs as well as being cost-effective. “A lot of great ideas and solutions come from small business....Small business pays off for us.”
Pawlikowski and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul were keynote speakers Tuesday at a free High Tech Small Business Symposium at Mohawk Valley Community College’s Rome campus, which was attended by about 200 people. The event addressed federal and state initiatives to assist small businesses, plus Air Force-related programs and opportunities, and also featured various display booths and discussions.
In addition, it included a Women in Leadership Roundtable discussion for female business, community and government leaders to share their experiences in overcoming obstacles.
General’s reflections on Rome
The AFRL Information Directorate, also known as Rome lab, is a “critical part of our national security” and is “always one of the places the Air Force turns to for innovation and creativity” needed in projects, said Pawlikowski.
She added afterward that she sees nothing but opportunities for the local site, given the global importance of the command, control, communications and intelligence categories in which it is involved.
Pawlikowski, whose Air Force Materiel Command based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio is involved in areas such as science and technology plus weapons and logistical management, was at Rome lab from mid-1990 to mid-1993.
She was deputy chief of the special projects division and then was the lab’s senior executive officer.
While recently approaching what used to be called the Mohawk gate to the former Griffiss Air Force Base (AFB) off Chestnut Street, Pawlikowski said, she overcame “muscle memory” to go to Black River Boulevard and on to where she used to live just north of Rome. She said her husband was a B-52 bomber plane navigator who “worked on SAC hill,” referring to the onetime Strategic Air Command designation for Griffiss AFB. She recalled that her daughter started at the former Transfiguration School.
Pawlikowski also remembered the summer of 1993 day when it was announced that Griffiss AFB would be shut down. There was sadness and trepidation about what would happen, she said, but also emphasized “we didn’t move Rome lab.” There was a recognition of its extreme importance in command, control, communications and intelligence, she added.
Calling herself “a little bit of a small business zealot,” Pawlikowski observed the growth in small business contracts awarded through her Air Force Materiel Command since she assumed her leadership position in June 2015. Not all small businesses are successful, she said, but “look at the payoff....Look at the innovation” that can be achieved cost-effectively, she commented.
One of her objectives at the Tuesday symposium, Pawlikowski told the audience, was to “help you understand opportunities” to work with the government on contracts. She also noted opportunities to cut through some of the “red tape” and “bureaucracy” that can be involved in government reviews which seek to ‘”make sure we spend money the right way.”
Hochul on small business development
Hochul said the Rome lab is the “key to success of the local economy,” adding “this is the place where innovation can occur.” Addressing the “great potential here” that could include more business partnerships with the lab, she said that instead of references to the “good old days,” she emphasized “these are the good days right now.”
Hochul stressed the need to help develop small businesses that may have a “great idea” but “just need a...helping hand,” such as from state programs. The “best ideas” today are not coming from longtime defense contractors such as Northrup Grumman or Lockheed, she said, but from startup companies and entrepreneurs.
Citing the importance for more students to enter STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, Hochul said the “number-one complaint” she hears from employers is “I can’t find workers with the skills I need for the jobs I have.” It can be a “great problem to have,’ instead of not having enough jobs, she remarked. She said “we have great places to educate the kids.” She also noted the area also is “so blessed” to have organizations like Rome lab and the Mohawk Valley EDGE economic development agency which are “really making a difference” overall.
Lab director addresses opportunities
The audience also was addressed by Daniel Goddard, director of the AFRL Information Directorate/Rome lab; RoAnn Destito, commissioner of the state Office of General Services; County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.; Rome Mayor Jacqueline Izzo; MVCC President Randall VanWagoner; and video messages from U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, and U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-22, New Hartford.
Goddard said that what makes him so optimistic about the Rome lab’s future is the overall “explosion of information” today electronically and the need for “advanced computing” to help process it. There also have to be steps for security or it will “lose integrity,” he added.
Those are “capabilities worked on in Rome” at the lab, Goddard explained, adding the “demand is huge and growing.” Overall funding for the Rome lab surpassed $1.2 billion last year. Goddard said it is “not my goal to make the volume go up,” but rather, “I see that as a result of good work” by Rome lab to “bring innovations to the nation and Air Force.” If the lab continues to do so, it has a “bright future,” he added.
Goddard’s presentation cited significant portions of Rome lab funding awarded for small business contracts within the state, and he mentioned businesses “involved in technological advances.”
Among other remarks
• MVCC’s partnerships “extend deeply with small businesses” and the AFRL, said VanWagoner, including programs to assist new companies such as its thINCubator facility.
• Rome lab is a “great partner in our community,” said Izzo. She added “we’re looking forward to the next Commercialiization Academy,” an AFRL-sponsored program to help entrepreneurs develop enterprises using AFRL-related technology.
• “Small business” is not really a correct phrase because it has “such a huge impact,” commented Picente. He told Goddard, “we’re really proud of the partnerships that exist.”
• Destito cited the state’s various business development efforts, and opportunities for businesses to be awarded contracts with the state.
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