Sound & Sea lands big Navy contract

“We specialize in the odd stuff,” said Dallas Meggitt, technical director at Sound &Sea Technology, a small engineering services firm located in Lynnwood.

By odd, he meant drilling horizontally through rocks 600 feet under the sea to protect a telephone cable running from Greenland to England, or using technology developed for arctic petroleum environments to help install wind turbines on Lake Erie.

Meggitt’s wife, Judith, is president of the company they founded together in 1999. They started with no employees and wrote their first proposal on their kitchen table, but have since employed up to 50 people in both Washington and California.

In September, the U.S. Navy awarded them an indefinite order contract with the potential for up to $99 million over 3 1/2 years. The contract is on an as-needed basis for design, installation and repair of underwater equipment, port security and ocean energy systems.

This is their third large Navy contract; the first was for $13.5 million in 2002 and the second for $45 million in 2005.

They believe they give customers the best service possible by marrying disciplined processes like those found in large engineering companies with the speed and flexibility of a small company.

Since the beginning, the Meggitts have maintained close ties with the Washington State Procurement Technical Assistance Center, which aided them in winning their first contract.

The center’s goal is to help companies to obtain contracts with local, state and federal governments and they have provided invaluable assistance to Sound &Sea in preparing proposals, interpreting contracting procedures and even giving advice on how to handle expenses such as the company car.

Neither of the Meggitts initially planned to own a business.

Judith, originally from Topeka, Kansas, started out working administrative jobs defense contractors as she followed her first husband, an officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to postings throughout the U.S. She eventually landed at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., while working for a Navy contractor.

Dallas, born in New York, has a degree in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic State University, but has never had an aeronautical engineering job.

During and right after college, he worked in the aerospace industry on non-airplane projects such as a submersible work boat. The Navy liked his work and recruited him for a civil service position at Port Hueneme, California. He then moved to the Navy Yard, where he met the newly single Judith; they married in 1976 and moved to Camarillo, California.

In California, Judith worked for more defense contractors, and Dallas became known as an undersea surveillance expert. He loved telling people at parties, “I hunt Russian submarines.”

In 1992, at the end of the Cold War, the Navy offered early retirements, and Dallas jumped at the opportunity.

He and Judith moved to the Seattle area and Dallas worked on an undersea surveillance program at Raytheon while Judith took on temp work and cared for an aging family member.

In 1999, Raytheon moved the surveillance work to Rhode Island, but by then Dallas and Judith were self-described “West Coast people,” so they decided to try opening their own business.

With their extensive contacts in the niche business of ocean engineering and experience with government contracting, they thought they could provide a valuable service to both commercial and government customers.

One of their first contracts was a cable installation at Ascension Island in the Pacific Ocean, which was part of a hydrophone system used for monitoring nuclear detonations.

As with all of Sound &Sea’s work, the Meggitts ran the program from beginning to end, providing the full spectrum of systems engineering services — design, program management, site coordination and hands-on installation.

To stay lean, Sound &Sea owns no capital equipment such as cable-laying vessels; instead, they hire such equipment and contract with local labor to carry out much of the site preparation and installation tasks.

Many of Sound &Sea’s contracts require overseas work, even when dealing with a U.S. customer. Although only about 10 percent of their contracts are with international customers, about half of Sound &Sea’s actual work takes place overseas.

The company maintains offices in both Lynnwood and Ventura, California, but most of their 42 employees work from home.

Sound &Sea is well known in the ocean engineering business, so the Meggitts don’t need to advertise for new business, but they and their employees attend conferences throughout the world to network and maintain currency on new technology.

Although 2013 was a difficult year due to government budget cuts, the company rebounded in 2014 and they anticipate additional growth, especially in cable-related work.

If a project has anything to do with infrastructure in or near the ocean, there’s a good chance that Sound &Sea will be there to help.

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