Michigan small businesses can help make America safer

By Carl Levin

U.S. Senate — MI

As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I spend a lot of time thinking about what Congress can do to make our country more secure. And as a senator from Michigan, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can help our state grow and create jobs.

I get really excited when those two goals come together, which is why I was so pleased by an event a few weeks ago in Detroit. A small business summit there brought together Defense Department officials, including the Pentagon’s top procurement official, along with major defense contractors and Michigan small businesses looking for new opportunities.

Hundreds of representatives from Michigan businesses took part. The summit, and the relationships and opportunities that resulted from it, hold the promise of giving our military greater access to work by innovative Michigan businesses while helping those businesses grow.

Let’s talk first about how close collaboration between the military and our small businesses can improve our national security. It’s no secret that our military depends to a great extent on innovation. That’s true whether you’re talking about the latest high tech weapons or just about a new piece of equipment that can help our troops survive an attack or that frees them up to focus on their missions.

And innovation is especially important now when every federal dollar is precious and the Defense Department, just like the rest of the federal government, needs to find ways to save.

That’s where small business comes in.

Small businesses are the innovation engines of the American economy. Pound for pound, no other segment of our economy comes up with more new, exciting ideas than our small businesses. And it’s important that our military harnesses the innovative energy of our small business community.

The small businesses that participated in the Detroit summit and countless others in Michigan can play a vital role in creating the technical innovation that our military needs to keep us safe. The major defense contractors and Defense Department agencies represented at the summit are a vital link between the small business community and the military.

With all the threats our country faces, and with the urgent need to do what we do more efficiently, we can’t afford to miss any chance to do what we do better. So the relationships established at the summit aren’t just good for business and jobs in Michigan– they’re good for our country.

I have always felt that Michigan has a major role to play in our nation’s defense. I look back to World War II, when our factories transformed into the Arsenal of Democracy, as an example.

Now, as then, Michigan is home to the best manufacturing work force on earth. It holds an immense reservoir of talent – design, engineering and manufacturing expertise second to none. We know how to build things in Michigan. We’re emerging as a global leader in the transformation of manufacturing, especially vehicle manufacturing, designing the high-efficiency cars and trucks that are the vehicles of the future. That is experience our military wants and needs.

And by contributing our expertise, Michigan can do well, too. We all know how tough the last few years have been on our state’s economy. But those strengths I just mentioned have not gone away. One way we can leverage those strengths is by transferring our know-how into areas like defense.

By connecting Michigan small businesses with our military and with prime contractors, we can create a “virtuous cycle” in which Michigan companies make their contributions to the defense effort; they grow, prosper and add jobs; and those growing, thriving companies can invest in even more innovation and new technologies that bring even greater improvements in national security.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.