Maryland’s buy-local program for cybersecurity

One of the big themes emerging in this region is how the business community has taken the lead on making sure conditions are improved to launch businesses. This is happening in real time in Maryland, and today, we’re going to talk about what’s going on there with Stacey Smith, executive director of the Cybersecurity Association of Maryland.

ABERMAN: What have you guys been up to? I heard you have some big news.

SMITH: I sure do! For those of you that don’t know, our nonprofit organization was formed about two and a half years ago, as a statewide organization in Maryland to help the Maryland cybersecurity industry grow. We have some legislative news that we’re really excited about. This last legislative session was the first time our organization got heavily involved with any legislative issues, and it was because there was a “buy Maryland cyber,” “buy local” kind of bill that was on the forefront.

It was brought to the legislative session from Governor Hogan, and there was also a legislative bill that Howard County Senator Guy Guzzone put forth, which related to providing tax credits for investors that would invest in Maryland cybersecurity companies. Knowing those two bills were being proposed, and they would both affect our 380 cybersecurity members in a big way, we decided to step up our efforts a notch. We’re thrilled to say that the bills were actually merged, for lack of better words, and it passed.

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ABERMAN: I love this story because we have the recent MetroNow Coalition, which has some success recently, that’s another example of the business community coming together for Metro. Now we see the Maryland cybersecurity community, which is part of, I would argue, the number one technology industry in our region. This is a big deal. I also think it’s a big deal because I’ve seen many large companies consistently look out-of-region for their technology solutions. For a state to step forward and actually provide a subsidy for people to buy local—D.C. and Virginia should do it too, but let’s hear it for Maryland, getting out in front of it.

SMITH: Absolutely. It’s nationally unique, and the investor incentive side of it is strictly for technology companies, so, anyone that invests in a product company here in Maryland will receive a tax credit. The buying-local side is definitely nationally unique, and will help both the product and services companies, and it’ll help keep Maryland businesses more cybersecure as well. So, there’s the incentive to help our cyber companies grow, by getting more sales, but on the business community side, it’s going to help them. It gives them a reason to invest in cybersecurity solutions, to help keep their business cybersecure.

The credit is for companies and businesses in Maryland that have fifteen employees or less, so it’s really a great incentive for those small businesses that think they can’t afford cybersecurity services, don’t think that it applies to them. We’ll be hitting the road here over the next couple of months, letting the business community know that this credit is here to help you to be more cybersecure, and Maryland has hundreds, if not thousands, of companies that can help you be cybersecure.

ABERMAN: In your past career, you were a public servant working for the Department of Commerce. What it like leaving government, going out into the private sector? Do you think that it really is as much Mars-Venus as it appears?

SMITH: Well, I tell the team at Commerce—because I left on good terms to come run this organization, because one of the biggest needs that I recognized while being at the Maryland Department of Commerce is that our cyber companies needed help with sales, needed help with introductions to customers. Many of them were focusing on the government sector, but opportunity for growth in the commercial sector. They didn’t how to break into that. So, this organization was created with a focus on helping them connect with those potential customers. I tell the team at Commerce I can run faster on the outside.

We’re great partners. Together, we can assess what the community needs, and I can get it done, with their support, faster on the outside. Government regulations, and things like that, I don’t have to live by those. We do work closely with the Maryland Department of Commerce, and obviously this session with the administration, Governor Hogan’s team and other legislators on the Senate side, to get a bill passed that’s going to benefit the cyber community in a big way.

ABERMAN: What’s refreshing to me is, I often will have people say to me, oh, Washington, nobody ever wants to get anything done, politicians aren’t interested in business, businesspeople don’t care. It seems to me that there are a lot more people, in the business community specifically, engaged, than otherwise people would suspect. Is that your experience?

SMITH: We’re finding that out as we’re now getting more involved there ourselves. What I’m also finding is—what we found with this bill, because it was a bipartisan partnership on this, is that I didn’t see the Governor’s administration, or the Democrats that were involved in this, Senator Guzzone and some of his constituents involved, saying, no, the Democrats wouldn’t want this; no, the Republicans wouldn’t want this.

They know that cyber is so important to every business, they know it’s a key industry for our state, economically, jobs-wise. They just said, what’s best for our state? And we had a lot of our individual members saying, we need this bill, whatever you need, get us involved. I saw more of them in Annapolis on a regular basis than I’ve ever seen before. It was a great government-private sector partnership.

ABERMAN: As you look from your perspective at the Cybersecurity Association, or just talking with your people in the industry, and your friends in government, what’s the roadmap? Where do you think that we need to go next to really promote the cybersecurity industry in Maryland, and more broadly in the region?

SMITH: One of the areas we were not initially focused on, that we’ve since gotten focused on, is the workforce. We just had a meeting yesterday with councilman Pete Smith from Anne Arundel County. Of course, that’s his hot button—that we’ve got to figure out how to attract the younger generation into cyber positions, cyber careers. We have to make it easier for them to get in, we have to identify pathways for them, we have to get the commercial sector involved in more mentorships, apprenticeships, and we’ve got to figure out the clearances. The government clearances process is a timely and costly process, and are there things that we could be doing earlier, to get kids involved a little bit earlier, keep them clean enough to eventually land a cleared position, but also get them involved earlier in the process to groom them for those cleared positions?

So, we’re actually brainstorming with him on some things that we could do together. We are also, because of this new legislation, we’ll be doing, as I mentioned, kind of a road show. One of the first things we’re doing is on May 17th, with our own membership, saying, what do you want to see for legislation for 2019? It’s something we’ve never gone to them with before, and we have Maryland Department of Commerce involved, and we have some legislators coming, to really hear what the business community is saying that they need help with.

ABERMAN: So for this episode, I should rename the show to “What’s Working in Maryland!”

SMITH: You got it!

ABERMAN: Stacey Smith, thanks for taking the time in joining us today.

SMITH: You’re welcome! Thank you.