State officials have started an effort to attract more military spending to Indiana even though the Defense Department is facing billions of dollars in automatic federal budget cuts.
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann on Monday announced Monday that Duane Embree, a longtime civilian executive at southern Indiana's Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, would lead the new Office of Defense Development. Gov. Mike Pence created the office using an executive order in January.
Ellspermann said companies do an estimated $4 billion in defense-related work a year in Indiana and that the state wants to better promote itself for that business.
"Our goal is to not only to preserve and protect the assets we have today but also to open our doors" to other opportunities, Ellspermann said.
Embree retired last year after 35 years as a civilian Navy administrator, including 13 years as a top official at the Crane center. The facility southwest of Bloomington has some 6,000 employees, and its work ranges from defusing old bombs to developing jamming devices used to block the detonation of roadside bombs.
Ellspermann cited Crane's economic impact along with several other major defense-related employers around the state, such as Rolls-Royce, which builds engines for military planes and helicopters in Indianapolis; AM General's Humvee factory in Mishawaka; and Ameriqual, which makes military meals in Evansville.
Ellspermann said the defense development office will start out with Embree and two other staffers. She said it would be based in Bloomington so that it's closer to Crane and two of the Indiana National Guard's largest facilities — Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh and the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near North Vernon.
Embree will work closely with state economic development agencies and the state government's office in Washington in dealing with military officials and defense contractors, Ellspermann said.
It could be a couple months before defense contractors know by how much their projects will be scaled back under the military spending cuts, Embree said.
"Industry will depend on programs — which programs they keep, which programs they decide to cut — and we'll have to make those adjustments as we go," he said. "... I don't think we're going to have a diminished need, but we are going to have to spend our money better."