It seemed impossible that John C. Mattman could fail.
But a mere seven months after his company went public in 2006 and began selling shares boasting that its success was assured, the unthinkable happened.
By the end of that year, Mattman had just $200 in a personal bank account and $2.3 million in outstanding claims from creditors. To make matters worse, someone had stolen his Ford pickup truck.
Mattman Specialty Vehicles was one of dozens of businesses that experienced a meteoric rise after the Sept. 11 attacks. Demand for sophisticated law-enforcement gadgets, baggage screening technology, and emergency preparedness gear was insatiable. Police and firefighters had to be equipped for the next major catastrophe, and Mattman was well-positioned as the all-American company ready to satisfy a boundless need to keep the nation safe.
The abrupt and dramatic collapse of Mattman illustrates how small businesses and communities alike struggled to manage the seemingly limitless spending spree on homeland security that emerged after 9/11. Not until years after the hijackings would California officials in charge of federal homeland security funds for the state enact rules to prevent local communities from losing money as a result of companies going bankrupt without warning.
Congress helped fuel the industry’s explosion by appropriating vast pools of money to local governments across the country in the form of antiterrorism grants. Topping wish lists everywhere were new muscle-bound but tremendously expensive incident-response vehicles that authorities wanted for fighting terrorism and disasters.
Packed with elaborate tools such as bomb robots, satellite communications, video monitors, biological-testing equipment, computer terminals, and more, the vehicles can cost as much as $1 million. These custom trucks were Mattman’s specialty.