Home-Based Firm a World Class Player

06 Nov 2005

Sound & Sea Technology’s latest feat – winning a five-year $29.5 million contract from the Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center in Port Hueneme, California – is just the latest in a string of successes for the Edmonds home-based company.

“It’s hard to imagine that a small technology business could have a worldwide presence,” says Sound & Sea principal Judith Meggitt. “But from our home in Edmonds, we coordinate a roster of engineers on commercial and government national security and marine engineering projects around the globe.”

The Naval contract calls for production of the Advanced Deployable System, a next-generation undersea surveillance system.

Judith and Dallas Meggitt formed their business in 1999 when they were both 56. Judith Meggitt had been laid off in the early ’90s from Northrop Corporation in Southern California; Dallas was given a choice of moving or quitting when his employer, Raytheon, relocated to Rhode Island.

Instead the couple decided to stay in Washington state and start their own company.
Dallas’ 30 years of experience in undersea systems installation combined with Judith’s 25 years of administrative and management experience made them a formidable team.

“Together we have put project management, cost accounting, reporting, and administration systems in place to serve their government and commercial customers,” says Judith Meggitt.

Sound & Sea Technology’s first project was a $9,000 contract to design and set up a system to monitor communications cables, running through the Olympic Marine Sanctuary off the Washington coast, to ensure the cables were not damaging the environment.

Since then Sound & Sea has contributed to more than 100 projects involving design and installation of military and commercial undersea cable systems, acoustic trials of advanced marine equipment, remote sensor surveys of the seafloor, development of cable landing sites, and related work.

The firm has expanded operations from Edmonds to Ventura, California.

In 2002 the Meggitts contacted Michael Franz, a counselor with the Seattle Small Business Development Center, for business assistance. The SBDC is partly funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide small businesses with no-cost confidential management and technical business assistance.

Counselor Franz helped the Meggitts with many aspects of their business including marketing; federal and state small business certifications; the merits and disadvantages of forming a limited liability corporation or Subchapter S Corporation; cash flow; reviewing and preparing a pricing/overhead allocation spreadsheet.

“Every time we had a question we would call Michael,” says Dallas Meggitt. “If he didn’t have the answer right away, he would research it and get back to us.”

Franz also referred them to John Tamble of the Snohomish Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). The PTAC is a national program established by Congress and funded by the Department of Defense to help small businesses understand and participate in the federal bidding process. The program has operated in conjunction with the Snohomish County Economic Development Council.

In July 2002 Sound & Sea Technology was awarded a $13.5 million five-year contract to provide ocean engineering support to the U.S. Navy.

To meet the broad scope of the contract, Sound & Sea assembled a team of other firms with specialist skills needed by the wide range of tasks on the contract. The company beat out several competitors, including a Fortune 500 company.

Having finished that contract two years ahead of schedule, the Meggitts successfully competed for a follow-on contract.

Among projects supported by this contract are the Advanced Deployable System (ADS), a next-generation undersea surveillance system; an undersea acoustic system for monitoring compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: installation of an experimental acoustic system off the East Coast of the U.S; and experimental cable system installations at various locations.

In addition to this work for the Navy, there is a new component to the contract: Anti-Terrorism & Force Protection for Navy facilities worldwide.

Dallas Meggitt says this involves evaluation and detection of any kind of threat to onshore Navy bases and docked ships, such as what happened to the USS Cole in 2000.

“Competing with very large corporations on a business level and for government procurement contracts is not for the timid,” says Dallas Meggitt. “The biggest challenge is keeping customers satisfied by exceeding their expectations.”

He says it’s important to study customer requirements and give them what they need – “To take time to understand your customers.”

The company’s name has a double meaning. The “Sound” in Sound & Sea Technology refers to acoustics. It also refers to the Puget Sound.

The Meggitts also carefully selected their company logo. They believe a logo is an important part of a business because it represents the company’s image.

Judith Meggitt touts the advantages of being a business based on a virtual work environment. “Being able to work 24-7 and not having to commute contributes significantly to our productivity,” she says.

The nature of the firm’s work requires contributions from a geographically diverse workforce, and their projects take their employees around the globe – literally. SST has completed projects in locations from Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to Wake Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, halfway around the globe from each other.

A report from the SBA Office of Advocacy in Washington, D.C., estimates that one-half of all small businesses are home-based businesses, although only 10 percent of home-based firms have employees, as the Meggitts do. They employ five people including themselves in their home administrative office, but have a total of 38 fulltime and part-time employees.

“Our employees – the engineers we hire to work for us – work virtually,” says Dallas Meggitt. “The broadband high-speed internet technology helps keep the lines of communication open and current. When we need to bring a team together to do a project, we still use the technology to communicate and keep our customers closely involved in the projects.”

Even so, he says he frequently travels to their California office: “There is still nothing better than face-to-face communication.”

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