Director of Programs
Ultra Electronics-USSI (Undersea Sensor Systems, Inc.) has a long and successful history in Whitley County. The company—which designs, develops, and manufactures advanced underwater sensors, long-range acoustic hailing and communications devices, and first responder communication devices—started out as a division of Magnavox. In the mid ’90s the business was acquired by Raytheon; in 1998 USSI became a wholly owned subsidiary of UK-based Ultra Electronics. In December 1999, the new Ultra Electronics–USSI opened up shop on East Park 30 Drive in Whitley County, about a mile down the road from the Raytheon facility.
“Although we looked at many alternate sites, we realized there was really no need to move any further,” said Joe Peters, vice president of programs. “The workforce in this area has a long history and rich experience in the military and defense industries. Management was and is very aware of the intellectual and technical resources available here and didn’t want to lose that by relocating out of the area. Plus, Whitley County and the Economic Development Corporation bent over backwards to make it easy for us to make the move locally.”
In September 2009, the company introduced the Hyperspike family of acoustic products, a line of high-power, long-range acoustic hailing and long-range acoustic communications devices, and was subsequently awarded a contract from the U.S. Army for the device.
Then in January 2010, the company expanded yet again when Ultra Electronics-USSI decided to move the manufacture, overhaul and repair of high-pressure pure air generators (HiPPAG™) for military aircraft from its facility in the U.K. to the United States. Two U.S. Ultra Electronics business sites were in the running: Rochester, New York and Columbia City, Indiana.
“The willingness of state and local governments to offer financial incentives was one of the major deciding factors in choosing our facility as the new manufacturing home for the air generator,” said Peters. Those incentives include up to $565,000 in performance-based EDGE tax credits, $150,000 in state training grants, ten-year tax abatements, and ongoing Northeast Indiana Fund–Talent Initiative training dollars. To date, company employees have accessed $10,000 in Talent Initiative funds for training in soldering, systems engineering, and IT technology.
“The state of Indiana and Whitley County have shown over and over that they are more than willing to step up and do what it takes to get—and keep—businesses and jobs in the area,” said Peters.
Rich in Intellectual and Technical Resources
In March 2009, Lilly Endowment awarded a grant of $20M to help fund the Talent Initiative to prepare the region’s workforce to meet the staffing needs of defense, aerospace, and advanced manufacturing companies in the 21st century.
“In addition to a workforce with all the technical skills we need, we also have ready access to our suppliers,” said Peters. “We use lots of small, local businesses—machine shops, plastics manufacturers, and so on—that support the automotive industry. They have the technology to support our industry, too.”
Rich in Local Attractions
"Although we’ve rarely had to recruit from outside the area, when we do the low cost of living is always a draw,” said Peters, “especially the low cost of housing. Parents are impressed by the quality of the local school districts, too. It’s a good place for families."
Once people relocate to the region, there’s a lot to make them want to stay, including a broad spectrum of recreational and cultural activities to appeal to all tastes. “We’ve got a variety of sports available here,” said Peters. “IPFW basketball, TinCaps baseball, Komet hockey, plus several major league NBA, NFL, NHL and major league baseball teams that are just a short drive away in Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati.”
For those who aren’t into sports, the area has other, more esoteric cultural attractions, as well. “Did you know there are four bagpipe bands in the local area?” said Peters. “Two of our employees play in one of these bands and make annual appearances on St. Patrick’s Day as well as the Johnny Appleseed Festival.”
Rich in Potential for Future Growth
In addition to the manufacture of high-pressure pure air generators, Ultra Electronics-USSI will also be moving their U.S.-based Overhaul and Maintenance (O&R) division from Arlington, VA to the Columbia City facility by the end of 2010. In the past year, the company has also moved their sonobuoy cable pack process from the Dominican Republic to Columbia City, and incorporated manufacturing processes once completed by suppliers into the Ultra Electronics-USSI manufacturing and assembly process.
“On the face of it, these changes will only mean an additional three to four workers,” said Peters, “but on a larger scale, they provide the company with more control of the entire manufacturing process, reduce costs, and position Ultra Electronics-USSI for new opportunities. It’s an exciting time.”