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Anti-submarine warfare company invests in new Michigan headquarters

A U.S. sailor carries sonobuoys onto a P-8A Poseidon during an exercise, July 24, 2018, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

KEVIN A. FLINN/U.S. NAVY

By TAYLOR DESORMEAU | Citizen Patriot, Jackson, Mich. | Published: September 8, 2018

JACKSON, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — With the fall of the Soviet Union, anti-submarine warfare became less of a priority in the United States, SeaLandAire Technologies President David Sparks said.

Sparks – not related to William "Cap" Sparks, a partner in Sparton Corp. and builder of the Cascades – was one of two people to start the company in 1997, breaking off from Sparton Corp. as it started moving operations out of Jackson.

But, anti-submarine warfare is "ramping up" again, Sparks said, allowing SeaLandAire to expand. Currently on Wildwood Avenue, the business plans to move into a new spot it purchased at 817 W. High St. next July.

The research and development company is investing more than $3 million into the new 23,000-square-foot headquarters, Sparks said. The company bought the former dental and medical space for $330,000 in December 2017, per city documents.

Adding five employees so far this year, SeaLandAire now has 50 employees and looks to add another 10 or so, Sparks said.

SeaLandAire's biggest client is the U.S. Navy, said Director of Engineering Brian Montague. About half of its money comes from government entities – and it all comes from outside Michigan.

"If you can imagine you have the whole world's oceans, and it's an amazing place to hide everything," Montague said. "And submarines are really good at it. It turns into a little bit of a political Battleship game."

The company's bread and butter is developing sonobuoys – remote sensors that can acquire data through underwater acoustics. Montague compares it to turning on the lights in a game of hide and seek.

"As soon as you flip this light switch on, all that goes away and it de-escalates conflict and the risk for conflict," Montague said. "The biggest strength it has is taking a person from a dangerous situation that they don't need to be in."

Sonobuoy development became the backbone for Sparton in 1956, up through the mid-1990s. The company's sonobuoys were involved in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

While many pieces are designed to go underwater, SeaLandAire also produces sensors for unmanned ground and air vehicles – hence its name.

Employees take pride that their small business in Jackson can help inform and save lives across the world through the military, Sparks said.

Improving efficiency with warfare products, new building

When developing sonobuoys, SeaLandAire looks at cost reduction and waste reduction, Montague said. Questions like "Can we make it smaller?" and "Can we use less plastic?" are common, he said.

In building its new headquarters, SeaLandAire is asking some of the same environmental and economic questions.

SeaLandAire worked with the city of Jackson to create a Property Assessed Clean Energy program. PACE districts are meant to motivate developers to invest in energy efficiency when building.

Energy improvement options include light harvesting – where sensors adjust light levels based on how much natural light is coming in – LED bulbs, occupancy sensors, special insulation and other solar, wind and geothermal features.

"I'm all for doing everything you can to protect the environment," Montague said. "But as a business, it's a hard spot to be in, to try and understand the balance between how much to invest versus what the payback is.

"Knowing where the break-even point is super helpful."

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