Joan Myers, chief executive officer of the North Carolina Technology Association for more than nine years, is settling into her new role as a leader in North Carolina’s fledgling efforts to build a defense and technology industry cluster.

Now director of special projects for the Partnership for Defense Innovation and the , Myers will help direct a on Tuesday in Cary.

Myers recently left an executive position at SAS to join the defense project, which she championed at NCTA and helped shepherd through the N.C. General Assembly, where the DSTA industry technology incubator in Fayetteville received state funding. DSTA recently expanded its presence with remote offices in Raleigh and Charlotte.

Local Tech Wire recently spoke with Myers about her decision to join the DSTA and the Partnership for Defense Innovation.

Why did you decide to take this position?

I chose to join the Partnership for Defense Innovation/DSTA for three reasons: leadership, passion and commitment.

The board is made up of truly visionary leaders, and their commitment to growing jobs and technology is tremendous. The political leadership (at state and federal levels) and many, many more is outstanding. Their engagement, direction and leadership with this project are inspirational. Together, they are people who look ahead, set a goal and make it happen, and I admire those traits. Scott Perry, DSTA President, has really done an outstanding job and has worked hard to build out the plan and take this tremendous innovation asset statewide.

Secondly, those that know me best know that I have a deep passion for technology and national security issues. Our technology companies here in N.C. are working on some of the most innovative technologies in the world, and to be able to work with them and see how we can help connect those technologies to help solve problems in the Global War on Terror, the intelligence arena, homeland security or emergency management is important and rewarding.

Lastly, I am strongly committed to growing the innovation economy in North Carolina to provide opportunity for everyone – from the coast to the mountains. I think the defense, intelligence and security sector provides a great growth engine for us and catalyzes some of our best assets: the brightest, most technologically gifted troops and commands in the world, top global and innovative startup companies and world renowned universities.

I had a chance to be with Gen. Colin Powell last week as part of my Eisenhower Fellowship Program, and he spoke to the group about (and I’m paraphrasing a bit) "working to make things better, not just trying to be the best, but to work each day to make things better.” I want to be part of a team that is trying to make North Carolina better.

Why should North Carolinians care about and invest in a science/defense technology cluster in N.C.?

The PDI/DSTA is a statewide innovation asset focused on assisting entrepreneurs with the development of new businesses and dual use technologies. Our model is similar to the N.C. Biotechnology Center. When visionary leaders made the investments in the Biotech Center 28 years, ago no one knew what the word “biotech” was, much less what the economic opportunities would, or could, be. Now, it is a significant growth sector in our state and an important part of the economy. Investments in PDI/DSTA now can reap the same rewards in the future.

In the first full year of operation, DSTA clients created 76 new jobs, involved 12 companies and created $13.3 million in revenue. The other reason we need to make these investments is that we truly have the opportunity to have a leadership role in the country. I think North Carolina can lead in security technology. President Eisenhower once said, “Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him. Greatness is not in where we stand, but in what direction we are moving.” I think we are moving in the right direction thanks to the General Assembly, the lieutenant governor (Beverly Perdue) and our congressional delegation’s commitment to this important sector.

Are the early signs good that real potential exists to grow this cluster, based on what’s happened for DSTA thus far?

Absolutely! Scott Perry has really worked hard to build partnerships that are building a great infrastructure. The PDI has now stood up the Special Operation Forces Wireless Networking Test Bed, and that has brought a team of new relationships for us. Our academic partners continue to build all across the state, and we have opened offices in RTP and Charlotte to extend our bridging effort. Our DSTA client companies are doing well, and we think we might be celebrating a graduation soon. Our DSTA clients managed or worked over 47 contracts last year. That’s a great start, jobs, contracts, collaborations – all good benchmarks.

What are your top priorities in the job?

Collaboration: The key to success for the PDI/DSTA is the build-out of a collaborative model – working to “connect the dots” company to company, company to military opportunity, security need to technology solution: connect, enable and empower. The hallmark of success for the sector to grow and provide economic opportunity is statewide collaboration.

Counterintelligence: As hard as we are working to accelerate technology into the defense, intelligence and security sector, we also feel a commitment to keep it in the United States. We are working collaboratively with the FBI under SAC Gray and SSA Stranahan’s leadership to help all our companies build counterintelligence capabilities so these critical national security assets don’t fall into foreign government hands. We want North Carolina to have the best reputation in the world when it comes to security whether it is focused on protecting people, physical security, cyber security, intellectual property protection or risk management. We have a lot to cherish; let’s be the best at protecting it.

Centennial Campus: I’m in the best neighborhood on the globe. Connecting with professors, students and the companies here on campus and connecting some of these relationships with needs/opportunities across the state (and nation) is a top priority. (NCSU) Chancellor James Oblinger, Vice Chancellor for Research John Gilligan, and Network Technology Institute Director Dennis Kekas have all been part of the growth and success of the PDI/DSTA. They are great visionaries, and helping to connect the assets here and across the UNC system is critical. We are currently working on a project with the N.C. Military Foundation for President Erskine Bowles focused on work force needs in the defense and security industry. President Bowles is committed to being a partner in growing opportunity in this sector and working collaboratively to make sure we have a workforce second to none for our companies in this area.

Will you be seeking additional funding for DSTA from General Assembly?

The PDI/DSTA doesn’t lobby; it is focused on executing our mission. We are excited that NCT A has included the DSTA funding on their legislative agenda, and our economic development friends across the state are also strong advocates, so they are all working with our political leadership to secure the critical $2 million funding this year.

How can your skill set and contacts help DSTA complete its mission?

I’m a problem-solver, and I look for gaps and try to fill them with opportunities. Dr. Gerry Bell says that you “solve 100 problems a day” – and in my view, that’s a good day. I’m really fortunate to work with an amazing team whom are subject matter experts, globally experienced and very dedicated to our mission. I also believe that we owe it to the men and women that serve our country to give them the best technology in the world and our team is honored to be able to help in that mission.