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NASA Courts Montgomery Businesses to Help With Mars Trip

Johnny Stephenson, acting director of NASA’s Office of Strategic Analysis and Communication, holds a 3D printed multitool designed by Enterprise High School student Robert Hillen. The 2015 Alabama-NASA MSFC Procurement Suppliers Conference was held Wednesday, April 8, 2015, at The Warehouse at Alley Station in downtown Montgomery. (Photo: Shannon Heupel/Advertiser)

Standing beside photos of the red planet, NASA officials made it clear Wednesday that they’re aiming high and that Montgomery businesses can come along for the journey.

“While NASA’s going to Mars, our trip to Mars is going to be successful because of Alabama,” said Johnny Stephenson of the Marshall Space Flight Center. “I’d like to see some of these companies here today participating and supporting us on the trip.”

About 150 people gathered downtown to hear about the products and services that NASA needs and how they can land those contracts. Administration officials and current contractors met one-on-one with local businesspeople to help ease the process, while explaining some of the extra help available for small, women-owned or minority-owned businesses.

Stephenson said organizations in 42 states contributed to NASA’s Space Launch System, and there’s no reason why more Montgomery businesses can’t come aboard.

They might already be on board if they understood the opportunities, said Ron Simmons of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the day-long conference and expo.

“They all think you have to be a scientist, or that you have to sell some kind of jet fuel, or be in Huntsville,” Simmons said. “They don’t realize you can do business from here, particularly with the projects going on at Marshall Space Flight Center.”

It’s not news to Montgomery-based planning and engineering firm Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood. The company has been working with NASA for about a year and a half and designed a 215-foot tower to test cryogenic fuel tanks for NASA’s Space launch System.

The federal bidding process is the biggest barrier to entry for most businesses, Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood’s Al Allenback said. But he said it’s a barrier that can be overcome by serving as a subcontractor for companies that are already in the system and building a resume.

With its wealth of IT professionals, architects and professional services firms, there’s no shortage of relevant talent in the Montgomery area. Allenback said all of them have to potential to land NASA contracts.

“Alabama is an aerospace state,” he said. “I think Alabama has incredible potential in aerospace, and that is becoming increasingly recognized.”

The local interest is being recognized by NASA, too.

Simmons said the administration was happy with the turnout, and they’re already planning for an even bigger crowd next year.

“We plan on this being an annual event,” Simmons said. “We want it to grow, and we want our small businesses to grow jobs.”

April 8, 2015

Brad Harper, Montgomery Advertiser

Small Business

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