NEWS

 

Navy Awards SST $13.5M Contract

06 Nov 2005

EDMONDS — When residents here send e-mail to relatives in Asia or make business calls to Europe, the bits of information and voice pulses often shoot through fiber-optic cables crisscrossing the oceans. To keep the globe connected, however, someone has to lay the cables thousands of feet down on the ocean floors. It’s obviously more complicated than burying cables along the street across a few blocks of town. That’s where Edmonds-based Sound & Sea Technology Inc. comes in.

Owners Dallas and Judith Meggitt have built a business by providing undersea engineering assistance for the installation of telecommunications cables and a variety of military-related projects.

“One of the advantages we have is we know who to go to for the expertise,” Dallas Meggitt said, “while the customer may not.” That knowledge is valuable. This summer, the small firm landed a five-year, $13.5-million contract, beating out several competitors, including a Fortune 500 company.

While the Meggitts work from an office in their Edmonds home, their work takes them far afield. A few months ago, for example, Dallas spent time on Ascension Island, a remote 34-square-mile volcanic patch in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.

There, he and other contractors performed seafloor surveys and installed cables for sensors that will detect secret nuclear weapons tests. The monitoring station is being set up as part of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The Meggitts, both 59, also have worked on projects much closer to home. They assisted in the installation of Global Crossing’s undersea cables that run from Mukilteo to California and Japan.

Dallas spent more than 20 years as a civilian employee for the U.S. Navy, designing and installing underwater sensors and other equipment. He then worked in the private sector until a buyout of his employer gave him a choice: quit his job or move to Rhode Island.

So he and Judith, who once worked in administration for Northrop Grumman Corp., started their own company in 1999. With Dallas’ engineering experience and Judith’s administrative skills, the husband and wife found they also make a good business team.

“We understand the requirements very well and we have substantial commercial experience,” Dallas said. “And we operate virtually, so we can work anywhere in the world.”

Since then, the Meggitts have contributed to two dozen different projects, gaining clients through word of mouth. Since Sound & Sea’s start, the couple have established an office in Ventura, Calif., and have 10 other employees around the nation who work with them via computers.

Sound & Sea’s start coincided with a boom in the undersea cable sector. Less than 15 years ago, satellites carried the vast majority of international voice and data traffic. Then AT&T Corp. finished laying the first undersea fiber-optic cable between New Jersey and Britain.

That one cable could carry 40,000 calls at once, much more than the undersea copper cables and comparable to the volume handled by numerous satellites.

During the late 1990s and through this year, numerous companies, including now-infamous Global Crossing, have raced to lay thousands of miles of undersea fiber-optic cables. Sound & Sea benefited from that boom, which has ended with more bandwidth capacity than needed and financial problems in the telecommunications industry as a whole.

“As it became clear the telecommunications bubble was going to burst, we wanted to diversity,” Dallas said.

Indeed, Sound & Sea’s work has flip-flopped dramatically with the boom and bust of the telecom industry. Three years ago, Dallas estimates, 90 percent of the company’s work was on commercial projects. That percentage is down to 20 percent. “The people doing the commercial work only are out there floundering, while we were able to transition to military work,” Judith said.

In July, the company got word it had landed the $13.5-million contract from the Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center in California.

To meet the broad scope of the contract, Sound & Sea assembled a team of other ocean engineering firms. The Meggitts credited the Snohomish County Economic Development Council’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center for helping them get through the complex bidding process.

“There’s an enormous amount of paperwork you have to file for these government contracts,” said Deborah Knutson, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Council. “Since Dallas had worked for the Navy, they knew him, but he still had to go through all that.”

For up to five years under the contract, Sound & Sea and its team will work on cutting-edge undersea surveillance systems and experimental cable installations for the Navy. While the big assignment is welcomed by the Meggitts, it undoubtedly will mean more time on the road, or the seas, for Dallas, he said.

“The Navy goes worldwide,” he said, “and so do we.”

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com.

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