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After Cold War, help's needed

More than 50 Florida defense contractors and public-private groups have submitted proposals to state officials to compete for federal help in converting their Cold War operations to peacetime manufacturing.

The best of the proposals will be sent by Enterprise Florida, a new state agency formed to expand Florida's economy, to Washington by July 23 to compete for $471-million available nationally for defense conversion.

"We've got some really strong proposals," said Sam Wooten, an analyst with the state Department of Commerce. He said they will be made public in early July.

A partnership between American Ship Building Co. in Tampa and the University of South Florida's Marine Science Center in St. Petersburg is seeking $4.3-million, according to William Shade, vice chancellor for public affairs at the State University System.

Shade said the group would like to use the money to develop an underwater robot.

American Ship was criticized by a government watchdog group after receiving $58-million from Congress last year to pay for extra costs on Navy ships it was building. In the case of the defense conversion help, however, "we went to them with this and asked them to be our partners," Shade said.

Another applicant is Martin Marietta Specialty Components, which manages the Department of Energy's Nuclear Weapons Plant in Largo. The DOE has announced it will stop making nuclear weapons there by late 1995, threatening the 1,100 jobs at the plant.

The firm, trying to convert its extensive laboratories to private use, is taking part in four applications that seek a total of $24.2-million in federal help over three years, said Fred Alberg, director of business development for Martin Marietta's nuclear plant.

Alberg says Martin Marietta proposes to help develop batteries for use in an electric car with USF and to analyze environmentally clean manufacturing for private industry. It will ask for $7-million to set up a worker retraining program at the plant, he added.

President Clinton announced in March that the $471-million was available, encouraging states to act as clearinghouses for local applicants. As many as 10,000 applicants are expected nationwide, according to U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo.

Some critics have called defense conversion programs a form of "corporate welfare," but Schroeder argues that companies have to put up as much as 50 percent of their own money to prove they are willing to take a risk.