October 20, 2006

EDO to cut ribbon today on new Daniel Island facility

Kyle Stock  /  Post and Courier

When Frank Cordero and his fellow Marines were driving tanks around the deserts of Iraq last year, they got a good sense of how touch-and-go battlefield communication can be. "A lot of times, if we didn't have line of sight (to an antenna or cellular tower), we were out of luck," he explained. But Cordero and the 30 or so other veterans who work for EDO Corp. on Daniel Island are trying to improve the situation and help soldiers stay in touch from the field.

Last summer, the massive New York-based defense firm won a $240 million U.S. Marine Corps contract to build mobile command centers, and the company recently moved into a new 50,000 square-foot building. Local politicians and EDO Chief Executive Officer James Smith will cut the ribbon on the new facility today.

The true measure of success, however, comes from veterans like Cordero. "I sure wish we had this stuff when I was there," he said Thursday, less than a year after he left the service.

To create the mobile centers, EDO's 50 local employees take commercial electronics and mount and wire them into sturdy, portable boxes that troops can take to the field. They will build similar systems on the backs of Humvees with enough cable, fiber optics and satellite hookups to support about 100 soldiers in the middle of nowhere.

Part of the $3 million package is an air-conditioned tent with secure phone, video and e-mail connections. Within the 30 minutes it takes to set up the tent, a field commander could have a live video teleconference with superiors in the Pentagon. "Basically, it's like BellSouth in the middle of the desert," said John Ledbetter III, an EDO engineer originally from Summerville.

The roots of EDO in the Lowcountry spread in 1992, when a company that it later bought sent one employee here to work on a $7,000 SPAWAR contract. In 1998, the operation grew into a 6,000-square-foot lease in Wando, and a couple of years later EDO bought a neighboring lot and added 8,000 square feet. It moved into its current site in August, and if business stays brisk, EDO will hire another 20 local workers and tack another 40,000 square feet onto its Charleston headquarters.

At EDO's 14 other factories, 4,200 workers build systems to jam radar and block radio and cell-phone signals used to set off roadside bombs. They also make electronics that detect ocean mines and guide missiles launched from airplanes.

The company has been booming since U.S. troops shipped off to Afghanistan and Iraq. In the past five years, EDO's annual revenue has jumped 2.5 times to $648 million, with 14 percent of those sales coming from foreign governments or companies. Its profit in that period surged 78 percent to $26.3 million.

The contract that comprises most of EDO's local work expires in 2012, but EDO is confident about its prospects to win more government business for its Lowcountry facility. John Vollmer, an EDO vice president who was in town for the ribbon-cutting, said the Department of Defense is in the middle of a wholesale shift from "legacy," or government-built computers and electronics, to commercial products.

EDO's Charleston business has been built on adapting this "off the shelf" technology to military vehicles and submarines. "It's like cell phones, there's new stuff coming out all the time," Vollmer said. "And we've proven in the marketplace that we're head-and-shoulders above the competition."

EDO Corp.

-Founded: 1925

  • Headquarters: New York City
  • Business: Designs and manufactures products for U.S. and foreign militaries, mainly electronics for communication and surveillance
  • Employees: 4,200
  • 2005 sales: $648 million; 82 percent of sales to U.S. government, 14 percent of sales to international companies and governments