The Pentagon needs to become more aggressive in seeking to buy from small companies, Rep. Ike Skelton (D., Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said yesterday at a Delaware County conference.

"Fear of rules, regulations, laws and uncertainty causes too many small businesses to say doing business with the military is just not worth it," he said.

He made the remarks at an all-day conference on selling to the Pentagon, organized by Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.), the retired Navy three-star admiral who unseated veteran Republican Rep. Curt Weldon last year.

Sestak lined up 125 federal-procurement officers and private-business executives to coach small firms on how to deal with the military.

The conference also featured exhibits by Lockheed Martin Corp., the Boeing Co., and other big defense contractors seeking to buy from small business.

Sestak said innovative and agile small defense contractors are becoming more important to the nation. "When you have the first harbinger of a new threat," Sestak said, "we need an agile response."

Another speaker, U.S. Rep. John Murtha (D., Pa), chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said small businesses often offered better ideas at lower cost than giant corporations. "We also need to keep the universities' feet to the fire," Murtha said, to convert academic research into small-business enterprises.

A capacity crowd of 300 businesspeople attended the all-day conference at the Springfield Country Club.

Scott M. Jenkins, president of S.M. Jenkins & Co., of West Conshohocken, which invests in small technology enterprises, said the event was helpful. "One of the biggest challenges facing small business is how to get in the door at companies like Boeing," Jenkins said, standing by the aerospace giant's exhibit.

Nearby, at the Lockheed Martin exhibit, procurement representative Juanita W. Hoke was handing out a list of purchases her company seeks to make from small firms, along with contact information for a long list of her colleagues.

Contact staff writer Henry J. Holcomb at 215-854-2614 or hholcomb@phillynews.com.