26 Jul Chippewa Valley Draws Defense Dollars
EAU CLAIRE, WI- Efforts at improving communication and technology in the battlefield could help to improve the economic outlook of the Chippewa Valley.
Thanks in large part to efforts by Rep. Dave Obey (D-7th District), several Chippewa Falls-area companies are in line to receive defense contracts in the upcoming 2003 federal defense budget bill, which was passed by the House and the Senate earlier this month.
From here, the bill goes to Congress’s Conference Committee (the joint House-Senate group that finalizes the language of congressional bills before they become law). Obey, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, sits on the Conference Committee and is making the valley’s strong tech sector a priority, an aide said.
“There’s a real unique and strong sector in the Chippewa Valley, and I think Obey is very aware of that and works really hard to do what he can to try to support that,” Obey press secretary Tom Powell-Bullock said.
Companies slated to receiving defense funding are:
Extrusion Dies Inc. (EDI), Chippewa Falls – $4 million for research into components for lighter batteries that can be easily carried and survive combat situations. The Army has made it a priority to develop more durable portable batteries that can deliver the power needed for electronic tools of tomorrow’s battlefield.
Rex Systems, Chippewa Falls – $5 million to develop new Army communications devices that link up automatically in the field. The devices would be able to network with each other, even in caves, buildings and other closed spaces that often prohibit good communication between traditional radios.
Cray Inc., based in Seattle with facilities in Chippewa Falls – $15 million to develop supercomputers for the National Security Agency.
Pliant Corp., based in Schaumburg, Ill., with a film manufacturing facility in Chippewa Falls – $7 million for development of better packaging for meals ready to eat (MREs). Packaging must meet military standards for ruggedness, camouflage and portability.
Silicon Graphics Corp. (SGI), based in Mountain View, Calif. with manufacturing facilities in Chippewa Falls – $11 million. The bill appropriates $6 million for a prototype high-performance computer for the Naval Research Lab, as well as $5 million for improvements to Air Force F-16 flight simulators that use SGI computers.
“If finalized, this funding would further boost the growing role of Chippewa Valley companies in producing cutting edge tools for our armed forces,” said Obey, who has represented the 7th District since 1969.
Having companies with such strong footing in the tech sector – harking back to supercomputing pioneer Seymour Cray’s local activity in the 1970s – truly is an asset, according to assistant city planner James Hanke.
“It’s wonderful,” Hanke said. “[We] have two critical things in this area: One is a top-notch, high-quality workforce, from some of the best senior architects and engineers down to a quality manufacturing force that understands the technology sector and has worked in it for a long time.
“Another advantage as result of the Cray legacy – a lot of folks who used to work at Cray have a lot of positive feeling about the region and really like living here,” he added. “So we’ve had a lot of new startups as result of Cray – SGI, Corona [Optical Systems], Riverside Machining and Engineering and others – that have really taken advantage of that legacy and moved us forward.”
If Congress does not act on the final version of the defense bill this week, then it will have to wait until after Labor Day, when Congress reconvenes after its annual August break, Powell-Bullock said. Even then, funds would not be disbursed until at the earliest Oct. 1, when the new federal fiscal year begins, Powell-Bullock said. However, even that timeframe is optimistic, given the amount of agency paperwork involved in disbursing the money.
“We’re as far along as possibly could be, and as far along as we should be,” Powell-Bullock said.
Lincoln Brunner is a Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Wisconsin Technology Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org