Street Talk: Ferris partners with National Security Agency

No meltdown.

Ferris State University will play a key role in developing talent and tools for possible national security challenges as it enters into an Education Partnership Agreement with the National Security Agency.

Ferris has signed a five-year partnership with the federal agency, focusing on boosting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for students by leveraging its computer software, expertise, special equipment and information.

The partnership includes Ferris’ Information Security and Intelligence (ISI) program, and will provide educational opportunities for students to meet a growing demand for skills in STEM fields.

“Ferris State University earned a strong reputation in higher education information security and the intelligence program, and has engaged in partnerships to remain innovative as we all seek to meet future challenges,” Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Bobby Fleischman said. “Ferris is excited to be part of this work providing an education that will make a difference for young students who can see their dreams of STEM careers become a reality.”

The federal government has authorized defense laboratories to create partnerships with institutions including colleges, universities and nonprofits dedicated to fields such as STEM, business and law.

NSA will offer experts to help develop academic projects and programs in STEM-related fields. The agency also will provide academic and career advice to students and offer program and research advice to Ferris faculty and staff.

The partnership creates vast and meaningful opportunities, said Molly Cooper, a College of Business associate professor in Information Security and Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence.

“This is an exciting development for our ISI program, which specializes in preparing our students through building information security skills necessary to protect all sizes of critical systems against known and future threats,” Cooper said. “We have great faculty who are highly respected in information security and intelligence and are working to prepare our students at earlier and earlier ages for careers in space cybersecurity, data analytics, database management, artificial intelligence, and more.”

Ferris’ ISI program is accredited by the NSA as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CDE) in all information and assurance subject areas. It is designated by the Department of Defense Cyber Command and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations as a National Center for Digital Forensic Academic Excellence and by the NSA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense.

ISI also has collaborative relationships with the Department of Homeland Security, The Pentagon and numerous Fortune 500 companies.

Credit score

A $90,000 grant from the Wege Foundation will build Northern Initiatives’ support of entrepreneurs of color in the Grand Rapids area, including more loans and coaching. The Wege Foundation was integral in the hiring of Northern Initiatives’ first Spanish-speaking lender, Norma Jazwinski, and is currently hiring a business coach.

Among the projects the Wege Foundation grant will support is Northern Initiatives’ goal to help its customers improve their credit scores.

“It’s a complex project on many levels, as it requires integrating our technology systems, learning federal guidelines, reporting data and coaching entrepreneurs,” said Elissa Sangalli, president of Northern Initiatives. “But to be able to help business owners build their credit score will have a wonderful impact on many underserved entrepreneurs working to create wealth and opportunity.”

Northern Initiatives also is working to meet the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, specifically zero hunger, gender equality, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, and reduced inequalities. Sangalli said the Wege Foundation’s support will help Northern Initiatives scale operationally and measure progress, assuring that lending is supporting the advancement of these goals.

“The Grand Rapids region is seeing a nice boost from Northern Initiatives and its efforts to help underserved communities,” said James Logan, president and CEO of the Wege Foundation. “Their approach to lending — which takes into account the well-being of generations — has been a plus not only to their customers but to everyone who gets to know these businesses.”

Downward trend

Three key indices in a closely watched survey of West Michigan purchasing managers turned sharply negative in December, closing out 2022 on a decidedly downward trend that aligns with national economic surveys.

Survey leader Brian Long, director of supply management research at Grand Valley’s Seidman College of Business, said he expects the National Bureau of Economic Research and other economists to declare a “mild recession” over the next few months. In previous months, Long indicated West Michigan already is in a mild recession by some measures.

The Current Business Trends survey showed its purchasing index reaching a 30-month low as reports on new orders and production also slid.

Long said he isn’t worried about an economic meltdown.

“I’ve called previous reports flat or modestly negative, but this report is significantly negative,” he said. “That said, I still don’t expect to collapse like we had at the onset of the Great Recession or the recent pandemic recession.”

The same survey’s employment index, though sliding lower, remained in positive territory, indicating a reticence to lay off or furlough employees that manufacturers have struggled to attract, Long said.

“Despite all the talk about a possible recession, it appears that some firms are continuing to backfill some of their open positions, and others are just plain reluctant to begin laying off any part of a workforce that they’ve worked so hard to build over the last two years of tight labor markets,” he said.

Office furniture orders remain soft as employers continue to retrench and assess their office needs, Long said.

But the survey showed automotive suppliers are still showing fairly healthy orders as they work through a backlog of orders and supply chains are finally showing signs of returning to pre-pandemic normalcy.

Here’s a look at the year-end key index results from December’s survey of West Michigan manufacturers:

  • New orders index (business improvement): -24 versus -2 in November
  • Production index (aka “output”): -10 versus +7 in November
  • Employment index: +14 versus +20 in November
  • Lead times index: -14 versus -5 in November

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