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It’s Not Just Boeing; NW Has a Growing Role in Defense Contracting

Hi-speed boats, unmanned aircraft, special cold weather gloves. These are just some of the products Northwest companies manufacture for the military.

This week, Washington Senator Patty Murray announced millions of dollars in defense funding for Washington businesses alone. Correspondent Austin Jenkins introduces us to this little known side of the region’s economy.

In little Bingen, Washington — across the Columbia from Hood River, Oregon — there’s a little company that’s growing fast. Insitu manufactures hi-tech, unmanned airplanes equipped with infrared cameras. The company’s biggest customer: the U.S. military.

Steve Nordlund: “We’re eyes in the sky to protect to troops on the ground, whatever they may be doing.”

Steve Nordlund is Insitu’s Vice President for Business Development. He describes his company’s hundred-thousand-dollar miniature airplanes as flying robots.

Steve Nordlund: “You know this is exactly the perfect use of robotics when you have a low-cost aircraft that takes the human out of the loop, where they can fly relatively low-altitude in very dangerous areas.”

Insitu is one of dozens of small to mid-size Northwest companies — most you’ve probably never heard of — that have contracts with the Department of Defense.

Another example is Portland-based Hemcon — maker of a hemorrhage-stopping bandage now in wide use in Iraq. Seattle-based Outdoor Research — or OR — is known for outfitting Northwest adventure-seekers. But it also supplies the Army with gloves that protect soldiers from both the cold and bomb blasts.

Brice Barrett is Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition, a group of more than eighty defense oriented companies in the region.

Brice Barrett: “Especially right now in a time of war we think about bombs and guns and tanks.”

But Barrett says the Northwest represents the softer side of the industry.

Brice Barrett: “We don’t have any of the major production facilities that are making offensive weapons platforms per se. What we are doing is generating life-saving technologies, new technologies that help modernize the battlefield in a way that makes it safer for our soldiers.”

Of course the success of these companies, depends in large part on federal defense spending. There’s $50 million earmarked for Washington companies in the next defense appropriations bill. Some might call it pork – others call it economic development for a burgeoning industry in the Northwest.

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