South Boston News & Record
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SoVaNow.com / January 16, 2014Plant the seeds, and with tender care and a little luck the flowers will bloom when the time is right.
It’s an approach that works for gardeners, and it can work for businesses, too.
That’s the hope at Lindstrand USA, anyway, after more than a year of idled production at the company’s South Boston facility. Lindstrand USA owner Bea Maurer says she has no timeline for when work will restart at the plant, but she thinks it might be imminent.
“We have several promising things that we’re working on and we should be in production soon,” said Maurer in a telephone interview from her residence in Florida, where she has spent the first part of the new year working to nail down new orders. She has quotes out on four major potential jobs and will be talking with Southwest Airlines later this month about doing business with them. “We’re ramping up for future production.”
Lindstrand USA makes and sells a varied line of products, from inflatable shelters to aerostats — fixed-position, unmanned airborne vehicles that can be deployed for purposes ranging from overhead advertising to surveillance. Over the past year, the company has made a big investment in R&D and testing in order to develop a standardized line of aerostat products for a customer base that tends to have specialized needs.
The result is a fleet of aerostats in five basic sizes — from 7,000 cubic feet all the way up to 100,000 cubic feet — that can fly anywhere from 500 feet to 3,000 feet off the ground. Once, Lindstrand needed the high school gym to inflate its 28,000 cubic foot model. The biggest boy in its newly-developed fleet will come in at three times that size.
Who could possibly need such a massive platform? Maurer chuckles: “Homeland security are the people who seem to have all the money, shall I say, at their disposal.” The various departments of homeland security — Customs, DEA, FEMA — have need for vehicles that can be kept aloft for extended durations. But to make a bid for that business, Maurer said, she’s had to learn much about dealing with the government: “I never expected I was going to have to become an expert in this market.”
Maurer, a veteran entrepreneur who bought Lindstrand USA in 2012 from its British parent, said that when she started out in South Boston, the plant had three employees. (The facility is located in the Houghton Business Park, up the street from South Boston Elementary.) While some orders remained in the pipeline, the company had an acute need to develop and “build a family of products to sell” to keep the business viable. Although Lindstrand employed up to 26 workers at one time, it lacked the product pipeline and operating flexibility to keep up that level of production. 2013 passed without a single order, said Maurer: “Without an order, you can only keep spending that money every two weeks [on payroll] before you have to take action.”
The situation prompted Lindstrand to invest $4 million in research and development of its new fleet, Maurer claims. As part of the innovation process, Lindstrand developed a proprietary flight control system to give its vehicles much enhanced directional capabilities. The R&D part of the equation underscores the fact that there’s more to aerostat systems than just the inflatables: components include mooring stations, tethers (made of industrial keylar that encase electrical and fiber optic lines), winches and the control boxes themselves. Concerning the latter, Maurer said the company is applying for a patent.
While Maurer no longer lives in South Boston — she divides her time between Florida and the Chesapeake Bay area — she speaks highly of the people who worked at the local plant. “You’ve got some skilled people in that town,” she said. At one point, Lindstrand was selling inflatables for military use in Afghanistan, and a customer told her that “the quality of the aerostats coming out of South Boston beat everything else flying in Afghanistan.” “It speaks very highly of the quality of work in South Boston,” she said. “I saw it first-hand, believe me.”
Given the stop-and-start nature of the business, it remains to be seen how many people a revitalized South Boston plant might employ in the future. (Maurer said that production came to a halt locally around the end of 2012). Lindstrand is in the position to quickly ramp up in town, if conditions warrant: “You have to have about half a dozen people who are pretty skilled and they can teach the other people pretty quickly.” (Not surprisingly, one of the major requirements for producing inflatables is the ability to sew.) With five employees at the present time, Lindstrand could resume work in South Boston reasonably quickly if new orders come through. Maurer is hopeful that she’ll start hearing back from potential customers as soon as this month.
“If we get an order tomorrow, we’ll start working on it,” she said.
She’s optimistic: with the new year, she traveled to Florida but hasn’t had time to enjoy wintering in the Sunshine State. “I’ve had some conference calls and I’ve got some good stuff going,” she said. “I’d be out playing golf today if I didn’t think it would be worth it to continue to work.”
CommentsGovernment contracts with DHS? So let me get this straight. The federal turds create the trade policies that allow our manufacturing to go overseas. They take our jobs and take our money through taxation. James Clapper then perjures himself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-xEg3A-0t4 Courtesy of Edward Snowden we know Clapper gave false testimony to Congress and that the feds have been violating millions of Americans fourth amendment Constitutional right. Now the government who created this plague of financial agony is going to potentially ease that economic hardship and give back some of the money they took if we build inflatable drones so they may further violate the 4th amendment to the United States Constitution. What the hell is happening to this country?
- By That ain't no workcamp we're headed to on 01 / 16 / 14
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