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2024 presents mix of contract opportunities, challenges, security threats

From the long wait for contract awards and the intense search for talent to the business impacts of merger-and-acquisition activity and the national security implications of intensifying threats, business leaders in the Fort Meade Region are shouldering a lot heading in 2024.

At the same time, improving economic indicators and an uptick in federal contracting are creating impressive prospects for area companies.

Donté Lewis, Principal of Vine Technology Solutions

“I think the possibilities for 2024 are exciting,” said Donté Lewis, Principal of Vine Technology Solutions.

Last year, Vine landed a prime contract with the U.S. Navy (its first federal contract outside the National Security Agency) and added nearly two dozen employees to its ranks. Lewis sees significant 8a contracting opportunities with several agencies in 2024 and is hopeful that decisions will finally be made on “several contracts that have been on the radar for a long time.” Lewis has been waiting on one contract decision since 2022.

“I think the NSA community has been able to award a number of significant contracts in the last six to 18 months, which has created strong tailwinds for the contracting community going into 2024,” said Bill Graf, Managing Director with KPMG Corporate Finance. “Firms that made significant B&P investments 12 to 24 months ago, or more, are finally gaining contract clarity as the government awards and firms ramp up on key mission-support contracts… My crystal ball tells me that the momentum from the second half of 2023 will extend into 2024 with additional contracts getting awarded with the wheels of the acquisition machine continuing to churn.”

Lockheed Martin is anticipating “an active Fort Meade market in 2024,” said Latisha Rourke, Vice President, Cyber and Intelligence. “We look forward to learning about new opportunities to work with our long-standing customers and partners to continue moving towards 21st Century Security… One trend is that customers are more focused than ever on adaptable, customizable and integrated solutions that enable swift information sharing between networks. We are working with the customer to understand their needs and goals to ensure we are proposing efficient and effective solutions.”

Attracting and retaining sufficient talent to meet client and mission needs, however, is an ongoing challenge.

Bill Graf, Managing Director of KPMG Corporate Finance

“We continue to explore new ways of reaching potential employees, including strengthening our partnerships with the local high schools and colleges to help inform and mentor future cyber engineers. We try to highlight that great jobs that make a real impact are right here in our community,” Rourke said.

As it has worked to expand its staff, Vine has emphasized its dedication to several core values, including personal growth.

“We are really big on developing people,” Lewis said. “When you come here, we really want to get you to where you want to be professionally. That resonates with people.”

In keeping with that dedication to development, Vine is also in the process of establishing an apprenticeship program that it hopes to scale up as its contract work grows.

This year, however, also presents an interesting competitive environment for federal contracts. Significant merger-and-acquisition activity early in the pandemic changed the number of small and mid-sized companies in the Fort Meade Region.

Latisha Rourke, Vice President of Cyber and Intelligence at Lockheed Martin

“The middle market – companies that grew from small businesses into that $40 million to $50 million-plus range – was essentially picked clean in the past few years” as those mid-sized companies were purchased by or merged into larger companies, Graf said. That left a gap in the contracting environment but also “an opportunity for new players to step into the void in the middle market.”

Many small companies in the region are started by professionals who were former key management or technical leads on programs for larger companies or firms that sold and typically played a critical role in the success of their previous company,” he said. “Many of those next generation companies are growing up quick. They know the playbook for navigating the Fort Meade market with a number of firms growing more than 20-25 FTEs in their first year or even more than that for established firms on the winning team of a new award.”

That growth, he added, has attracted the attention of more than 10 private equity firms that have made platform and bolt-on investments in the Fort Meade market.

“There is a lot of interest in this market,” Graf said. “We have a great, well-funded agency and, from an M&A perspective, both strategic and private equity firms see good opportunities to combine companies together, adding scale, capabilities, contracts, and customers.”