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Business Observer Thursday, Jul. 21, 2011 10 years ago

Ready to Launch

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Many Space Coast companies see gloom as the shuttle program comes to an end. Carol Craig sees opportunity as she starts a new venture.
by: Dan Ping Editor/Central Florida

The final mission for space shuttle Atlantis signals an end to the space shuttle program, but the beginning of a new venture for Craig Technologies.

The Melbourne-based company recently added a machine and tool division as other companies with those capabilities on the Space Coast have closed. The loss of NASA-related contracts, combined with the economy, is responsible for the closings of these specialty shops.

Craig Technologies is a software and systems engineering firm that provides project management, infrastructure installation and modeling and simulation services for the aerospace and military industries. It seems a machine and tool division would seem out of place at a company that began as a software firm, yet it was a logical expansion to Carol Craig, the company's founder and CEO.

“Diversity has always been my friend as I've grown my company,” Craig says. “We've tried to add new services that complement our existing skill sets.”

Craig points out that machine and tool work often involves design.

“Rarely do you have an instance where you just simply machine a part,” says Craig, who spent a summer during college working at a machine shop. “Your customer comes to you with a problem and a set of specs, and you have to design the actual part. We have a lot of experience on the design end.”

Because her company's primary business is outside of the machine and tool industry, Craig says she has time to grow the new division without the pressure of a stand-alone shop.

Still, she expects to turn a profit because the venture is being funded with Craig Technologies' profits, not debt or outside investors.

“We're on track to recoup all of our costs and turn a profit by the end of the year,” says Craig, adding that the new division began operating in January.

The closing of local machine shops not only provides Craig with a new opportunity, the company has also been able to purchase used equipment at a discount price. She estimates she has invested about $500,000 in capital costs.

Craig also expects to tap into the skilled labor force along the Space Coast.

“Not all of the NASA jobs were engineers and rocket scientists,” says Craig. “There are a lot of skilled craftsmen and high-tech workers who are now out of work.”

Brevard County officials estimate the end of the shuttle program will result in the loss of some 8,000 NASA-related jobs. Craig has already hired 15 employees for the new division and expects to add about 10 more by the end of the year. These new employees join the company's current work force of 240 people in 26 locations.

“I'd like to have about 500 employees, but then I tend to think big,” Craig laughs. “Realistically, I think we could add several dozen jobs in the next couple of years.”

Craig Technologies, which posted revenues of $28 million in 2010, has several government contracts, and the CEO says she will pursue similar deals for the machine and tool division. She also plans to push into the commercial market, noting that the division's closest competitor with similar capabilities will be about 200 miles away.

“We'll target the automotive market, commercial aerospace and maritime, especially since we're located at Port Canaveral,” says Craig.

The company already is working with Rivian, a startup car company in Rockledge that plans to build a fuel-efficient sports car.

Craig says opening a machine shop is not unusual given her background. She earned degrees in computer engineering and science before working for the U.S. Defense Department's Naval Air Warfare Center. She left the defense department to become a Naval Flight Officer through the U.S. Navy's Aviation Officer Candidate School and was the first woman aviator in her P-3 squadron.

“I'm used to being the only woman,” she says.

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