A panel of businesspeople had some advice for their Utah counterparts on Friday: Uncle Sam wants you.

Opportunities exist, they said, for businesses to get involved in contracting or subcontracting work for both the defense and homeland security industries. And the best way, according to the panel, is through relationships with companies that already have large contracts in hand.

Molonai Hola, president and chief executive officer of Icon Consulting Group Inc., said all prime contractors have goals and plans for working with small businesses as subcontractors.

"The feds are saying, 'Listen, you've got to work with small business. You've got to give small business some work,' " he said during the technology breakfast hosted by the Governor's Office of Economic Development. "So they are going to work with you or a small business. You've just got to get there and hustle. You've got to get there and talk to their small-business guy who's in charge of the subcontracting plan. Get on there and just bug 'em until they give you some work."

Jim Sutton, director of plans and programs for the Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, said 90 percent to 95 percent of defense dollars will go through major players.

"To me, I follow the money," Sutton said. "The reality of it is that relationships you build with large businesses . . . are the lifeblood of those companies."

Troy Takach of Kairos Autonomi noted that small businesses often can get products into the field quicker than their larger counterparts. He said he worked for a company that developed a radio system in three weeks and had it in the field by 20 weeks.

"What you see today is, technologies that we have in our companies can actually make it to the field in a very, very short period of time. And larger companies cannot perform in those time frames, so they have to have the resources of a smaller company to be able to move that product. . . . Today, it's very, very possible for our companies to go ahead and put that (new) technology forward and see it deployed in a shorter period of time without a lot of the red tape that used to occur."

Takach also suggested that companies interested in defense work get their name out through press releases, trade magazines and other means, rather than spending time "polishing our apple as far as making that technology better."

"Let people know. . . . We need to be proactive in that. It's absolutely true," he said. "These defense contracts are not going to come to you. They're not going to come in to your door. And the first time Lockheed hears about you should not be when you make a phone call to them."

But Sutton noted that "performance is critical" when it comes to companies providing technology to the military, whether they are direct contractors or subcontractors.

"You'll get one opportunity to fail. You won't get two. . . . It's cruel, but there are 1,500 companies behind you with their hands raised, ready to take your position," he said.

Gary R. Harter, in charge of the defense and homeland security clusters for GOED, said Utah is working to double its portion of the Department of Defense budget, to $7 billion, by 2011.

"The truth is, everybody can be a defense contractor or subcontractor or whatever it is and provide products and services, research, whatever it needs to be in the defense and homeland security realm," Harter said.

E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com