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Cybersecurity firm moves to next level

Group seeking to have a Marquette presence

Northcross Group moved a step closer to opening a primary office in Marquette with its president making a visit to Northern Michigan University. (Stock photo by Metro Creative)

MARQUETTE — Northcross Group moved a step closer to opening a primary office in Marquette with its president making a visit to Northern Michigan University.

Northcross, an integration and cybersecurity firm with offices in Portland, Maine, and Arlington, Virginia, recently announced an academic partnership with NMU. Through this partnership, cybersecurity skills will be developed in the next generation through internships and contributions to Northern’s academic programs and the Upper Peninsula Cybersecurity Institute.

Last week, Northcross President Chris Bender visited the NMU campus to see how the company can find and develop talent at the U.P. Cybersecurity Institute, and also to build a presence in town. He interviewed potential interns and employees, and met with NMU faculty members as well as local business leaders.

“We got to know the Cybersecurity Institute here at Northern just a few months ago, really, and we’re very impressed with the technical foundation and things that they’re doing here,” Bender said.

He said Northcross had been in touch with members of the defense industrial base in the U.P., which are manufacturers that supply the Department of Defense.

Bender noted the Department of Defense is enforcing certain types of cybersecurity provisions on these companies, who now have to comply with them.

However, he acknowledged these companies haven’t had cybersecurity as a focus.

Bender said Northcross is interested in looking at cybersecurity with a business-centric view and applying it within an organization.

“Take a small business where they have a manufacturing type of operation,” Bender said. “Cybersecurity is probably not the number one thing on their mind.”

This involves a game plan, he said.

“We had some great dialogues with NMU and said that would be a great skill set to add when we are hiring,” Bender said. “When we’re looking for folks, that’s something we look at in addition to their technical skills.”

Bender also noted Northcross will center its cyber internship primarily at NMU, and to support its efforts, the company will open an office at Front and Washington streets in downtown Marquette.

“We’re actually building a full presence here,” said Bender, who pointed out Northcross has two primary offices as well as five remote locations. He said full-time employees will be hired, with the hope that NMU students going through the intern program will eventually become Northcross employees.

Bender anticipates the office will open by January.

David Nyberg, NMU director of corporate engagement, said NMU is grateful to sign the academic partnership.

Nyberg said that a few years ago, NMU formed a bachelor’s degree program in information assurance and cyber defense, followed by the creation of a hub on the Michigan Cyber Range: The U.P. Cybersecurity Institute.

“The purpose of that is to offer non-degree credential and career exploration opportunities for students to explore careers in cybersecurity,” Nyberg said. “The big reason for that is because we’re noticing that digital economic opportunity is a growing value proposition here in Marquette.

“People want to live here for the lifestyle, whatever reason it might be. Maybe they grew up here. Maybe they want to live here for the outdoor recreation.”

However, he acknowledged it’s often difficult to stay in the area with full-time employment.

“The cybersecurity program is really identified as an opportunity as growing the local economy around a career and industry that doesn’t have a hindrance due to our logistical challenges being located far away from urban centers, on the Great Lakes, and also really sparks creativity in terms of the types of companies that can be located here,” Nyberg said.

NMU also convened a partnership, he said, with K-12 schools, industries and economic development organizations for the U.P. Cybersecurity Talent Consortium, procuring almost $2.5 million in grant funds through Michigan’s Marshall Plan for Talent to support that work, which includes K-12 curricula for cybersecurity careers and related topics.

Nyberg said Northcross will provide “meaningful” career opportunities for students as well as help keep NMU programs relevant and perform collaborative activities with faculty to ensure what they’re teaching complements real-world work Northcross provides for its clients.

Bender said the cybersecurity field is relatively new and businesses need to adjust with a “strong criminal element” that takes advantage of the digital age.

“No one’s immune to it,” Bender said. “You can be a one-person shop and you can be hit by these things.”

So he stressed protective steps need to be taken, and students involved with the U.P. Cybersecurity Institute and Northcross can understand how to scale their efforts from national defense to a small company.

“A three-person company needs to be protected in some of the same ways,” Bender said.

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