Even in challenging economic times, the Morgantown area is expected to continue to grow, according to West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
Morgantown’s economic strength is attributed to the presence of the type of employers least vulnerable to business trends: universities, health care centers and government agencies.
Many of those jobs can be found along West Virginia’s High Technology Corridor. This 73-mile stretch along Interstate 79 is home to the world’s largest cluster of biometric and identity security firms. Their specialized skills protect our nation’s security at home and abroad. They also create career opportunities that have allowed West Virginians like Pamela Alonge to come home to the Mountain State.
A native of Harrison County, Alonge graduated from WVU with a bachelor’s degree in software development. Her job search took her to Washington, D.C., nearly 20 years ago.
“At the time, I was not aware of many software development opportunities here,” she said. “Although we visited as often as possible, I missed my family here and the beauty of the state.”
In 2007, she heard that Lockheed Martin Corp. had jobs available providing information technology operations and maintenance services for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services division in Clarksburg, W.Va.
Being in West Virginia is less stressful for her children, now ages 14, 12 and 9.
“The kids enjoy more freedom here,” said Alonge. “It’s safe to let them ride their bicycles in our neighborhood. We live on a lake, so they can enjoy swimming, diving and fishing, just like I did when growing up.”
Alonge works with several of the FBI’s systems, including the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, the world’s largest law enforcement and criminal history database. Lockheed Martin is lead contractor on the FBI’s biometric Next Generation Identification system, which will expand the database’s fingerprint capacity and add palm print patterns, face-shape data and iris recognition.
One resource she uses in her work is Lockheed Martin’s BEACON (Biometric Experimentation and Advanced Concepts Center) in White Hall. The 6,000-square-foot facility is an innovation and collaboration center for the research of biometrics, the physical characteristics such as fingerprints, palm prints and irises that are distinctive to each individual.
“Biometrics help keep Americans safe by verifying somebody is who they say they are,” said John Mears, director of biometrics for Lockheed Martin. “They’re also used to identify criminals through what they’ve left behind, such as fingerprints at a crime scene, a palm print on a door or a face caught on a videotape.”
Lockheed Martin had worked in West Virginia in aviation since the 1960s and in biometrics since 1998. Its positive experience in the state contributed to the corporation’s decision in 2007 to build BEACON in West Virginia.
“We had a good understanding of the community and a lot of respect for the people and talent in West Virginia, particularly in the High Technology Corridor,” said Mears. “We chose the location because of its proximity to industry, including the FBI, Department of Defense and intelligence agencies, as well as academia.”