Business is booming at security expo


Whether the Democratic National Convention will be an economic boon or bust for the city of Boston is still a matter of dispute. But for one rapidly growing sector of the Massachusetts economy, the mega-event is a guaranteed boost.

“The DNC will be huge for us,” says Gerard Boniello, co-owner of Corporate Resources Group, which, despite its plain vanilla name, provides high-level security and other protective services to corporate executives and other clients. Founded four years ago with just 10 employees, the Cambridge-based firm now employs 75 people and has seen its revenues double every year, he says.

Security expert Gerard Boniello: The Democratic
National Convention “will be huge for us.”

Judging by Boniello and the roughly 75 other exhibitors at Security Expo 2004, business is booming in the private security sector. The trade show was held at the Sheraton Ferncroft Resort in Danvers April 15, sponsored by the local chapter of ASIS International, an association of security firms and professionals. The Boston chapter has about 800 members, and nearly all of them seem to be at the Expo, checking out the displays and attending the workshops (“Preparing for the Next Anthrax Attack: Managing Bio-chem Threats in the Workplace,” in the North Shore Ballroom at 8 a.m.; “Identity Theft—What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You” at 11:30 in the Marblehead Room).

“We’ve been growing every year,” says Security Expo co-chair Bonnie Michelman, who is director of police, security, and outside services at Massachusetts General Hospital. “This year, I’m seeing a lot more integrated security systems and a lot more sophisticated electronic technology for surveillance.”

The attendees—mostly corporate and institutional security managers from all over New England, according to Michelman—wander from booth to booth, checking out such products as laminated ID badges, X-ray screening devices, and software that allows remote access to alarm information. Many stop to pat Elvin, a bomb-sniffing black Labrador retriever. Elvin works for New York-based Michael Stapleton Associates, a firm that offers an array of protective services against bombs and other security hazards. Jason Rose, who mans Stapleton’s Boston office, says many of the firm’s financial services and other clients have come to realize they need to upgrade all their safeguards, hardware and human alike.

“After 9/11, everyone goes out and buys an X-ray machine because they think that’s the magic bullet,” says Rose. “But then they hire people to watch those machines who may not be properly trained.” That’s where Stapleton comes in: When the luggage screener isn’t quite sure whether that fuzzy shape on the X-ray screen is a hair dryer or something more sinister, the image is sent, via video stream, to Stapleton’s New York headquarters, where experts assess the risk.

For Rose, who spent 12 years as an Air Force specialist in explosive ordnance disposal, homeland security has meant job security. “We’re a small company, but we grew on a hockey stick curve after 9/11,” he says.

The same is true for Quincy-based South Shore Security, a family-run business since 1960 that has seen its employment nearly double to 300 people over the past five years, according to Anthony Froio, the firm’s director of operations. “When companies hit hard times, it used to be that they’d cut back on security,” he says. “That’s not an option any more.”

Richard LaPlante hopes the fast-growing security sector can get him back into the technology field lean times forced him out of. “I’ve been a software engineer for a long time,” says LaPlante. “But I ran out of work. I was basically starving.” Desperate for a job, LaPlante signed on as a sales representative for a New Hampshire security device company.

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Taking a break from his own booth, LaPlante talks technology with Romie Jones, a sales consultant with Chelmsford-based Biscom, which is promoting its WebEyeAlert at the Expo (THE NEXT GENERATION OF DIGITAL VIDEO SECURITY TECHNOLOGIES IS HERE TOADY, announces a Biscom brochure). “I see a lot of crossover between security sales and software development,” says LaPlante. “I see real opportunities in this area.” Jones, who comes out of the telecom industry, agrees.

At the Security Expo, anyway, opportunity seems to be in the air. Halfway through the day, Jones has already collected an inch-thick stack of business cards. “We’re the technology behind all those [surveillance] cameras,” says Jones. “And these are our end users.”