Article by Carol Johnson, Southern Indiana Business Report
FRENCH LICK – About 175 vendors, all seeking to provide products and services to Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane, filled the Exhibit Center of the French Lick Resort Tuesday to promote their business during the 2023 Buy Indiana Expo.
For 25 years, the event has served to help align unique companies in and out of Indiana with the defense needs of Crane.
Crane is the third largest naval installation in the United States. As a federal laboratory, it develops technologies to support today’s warfighter.
In fiscal year 2022, Crane’s economic impact on the region was more than $3 billion. Crane spent $386 million with small businesses in FY 2022.
Matt Burkett, deputy director of small business for Small Business Programs at NSWC Crane, opened the Expo. The Linton-Stockton Chamber hosted the event.
“We at Crane can’t fulfill our mission without the support and knowledge of the businesses in attendance today,” Burkett said.
Companies in attendance ranged from machine shops and high tech 3D metal printers to environmental and IT services, landscapers, cybersecurity and human resources support.
Pam and Jason Loughmiller were there as the owners of Loughmiller Machine, Tool and Design in Loogootee. Crane contracts represent about 30% of Loughmiller’s business. Jason started out working at Crane before leaving to concentrate full time on the machining business. Loughmiller employs about 60 people and recently invested $2 million on a new 30,000 square foot building.
The Loughmillers said Buy Indiana is a good way to strengthen their company’s connections with Crane.
“The Expo is a chance to meet face-to-face with people we deal with through emails and phone calls and to connect with people we have long-standing relationships with,” Pam said.
For a new business, it can take time to get connected with Crane and events like Buy Indiana provide an introduction.
“It’s finding your niche within what the Department of Defense is looking for and then finding the right purchasing agent,” Pam said.
Kyle Brown, director of operations for Bowhead, said Buy Indiana is a way to connect with unique skill sets of small businesses that can be useful now or later on when working in the defense sector.
“To be able to gather with fellow smalls and team together for future work, this event opens that opportunity for us,” Brown said.
Bowhead is an Alaska Native Corporation and performs work at defense locations across the U.S. Bowhead attends the Expo every year.
“The Expo is also a chance to see other technologies, types of fabrications and products,” he said. “When you work with the government, you get unique requirements and that connection you made at the Buy indiana Expo may lead to work down the line not only for your company but a sister company you met while you were here.”
As a federal laboratory that provides technical engineering solutions for many of the systems that protect and support the warfighter, Crane is focused on three missions: electronic warfare, strategic missions and expeditionary warfare.
“We find out what their problems are and work to find solutions,” said Nancy Maloy, technical acquisition deputy at Crane.
Contractors play an important role in carrying out those missions.
The sheer size of Crane can be daunting for a small business. Buy Indiana brings the naval base down to a manageable size and Crane sends large numbers of its employees to the trade show to meet the vendors eager to do business with the government.
Tri Star Engineering, Inc. (TRISTAR), headquartered in Bloomington, with additional offices at West Gate, Bedford, Louisville, Ky., and Chesapeake, Va., provides solutions in engineering sensor systems, cyber intelligence, IT, program management, electronic warfare systems, software development, small arms and technical services across the Department of Defense.
Established in 1995, TRISTAR is a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business.
“This is one of our largest customer bases and this is an opportunity to see them all at once,” said Polly Lawyer, Program Manager at TRISTAR. Lawyer is celebrating her 25th anniversary with TRISTAR this week and has attended all but one Buy IN Expo.
Lindsay Ireland, Vice President of Contracts at TRISTAR, was attending her first Buy Indiana. Ireland is based out of TRISTAR’s Chesapeake, Va., office
“This was a great opportunity to meet in person with our government contract representatives and several sub-contractors all at one location,” Ireland said. TRISTAR is currently a prime contractor of six Seaport NxG Task Orders supporting NSWC Crane.
Chris Beck attended with his company, Innovative 3D Manufacturing of Franklin. The company is six years old and Beck said he has been coming to Buy Indiana for the past five years.
“We have a technology that is very expensive and there are not very many companies that have this technology,” Beck said. “We have what they probably need, the problem is they don’t know we exist and this is a way we can market to them.”