ROCK ISLAND, Ill. " More than 400 people attended the 2011 Midwest Small Business Government Contracting Symposium held May 17-18 at the iWireless Center in Moline, Ill. The symposium, coordinated by the Iowa-Illinois National Defense Industrial Association, brought together contractors with officials from Army Sustainment Command and Rock Island Arsenal for two days of educational and networking opportunities.

Conference attendee Barney Smith, ASC Account Manager with CGI Federal based in Rock Island, Ill., said he has been to other small business conferences of similar size and scope, but noted that this event was well orchestrated.

“The networking and tradeshow breaks provided enough time to meet with other companies and still view the different tradeshow booths,” said Smith. “Every speaker was articulate and very informative.”

Maj. Gen. Yves Fontaine, ASC commanding general and senior commander of the Rock Island Arsenal, officially opened the event with a ribbon cutting, followed by a speech. During his address, Fontaine emphasized the critical connection between industry supplying the Arsenal and the subsequent support provided to Soldiers worldwide.

“This Arsenal, this community, this region has become a center of gravity for the defense industry,” said Fontaine. “A center of gravity for the country as far as providing support to Soldiers.”

“My message to you is, thank you for supporting the Rock Island Arsenal, number one. Number two, thank you for supporting the Army. All of you are involved, in some way, shape or form, in supporting our nation,” said Fontaine.

Fontaine urged contractors looking for success with government contracts in the future to take account of constrained resources, the drawdown in Iraq, plans for Afghanistan, and continued preparedness for the nation’s next battle. These challenges, he noted, will require contractors to employ creative thinking in their dealings with the government.

“There is opportunity to do something different and partner with business even more effectively in the future,” Fontaine noted. “We need your ideas as a partner. We do need you to get involved.”

Other highlights of the event included a senior leadership panel on which ASC’s Deputy to the Commander, D. Scott Welker, discussed the command’s mission; a presentation on the challenges in Afghanistan by Col. Richard Dix, ASC’s chief of staff; and a question-and-answer session with Army contracting experts, including Robert Matthys, associate director of Small Business Programs for ASC and Joint Munitions Command.

U.S. Reps. Dave Loebsack of Iowa and Bobby Schilling of Illinois provided congressional updates on small business topics and answered questions from the audience on subjects ranging from small business assistance to BRAC and the national debt limit.

In evaluating the symposium’s many offerings, Smith, the CGI account manager, found the senior leadership panel " including an ASC update provided by Army Sustainment Command Deputy to the Commander, D. Scott Welker " particularly beneficial. “It provided a forum to hear the latest command information and to ask pertinent contract related questions,” Smith said.

Measuring the event’s success, Matthys said, “All in all, the [participant’s] comments are very positive.”

Asked to rate the statement: “My overall experience at the event was good, and I would recommend other similar programs,” 31 participants strongly agreed, 38 agreed, one person answered neutrally and not one disagreed or strongly disagreed.