The new U.S.S Little Rock already has a strong connection to Buffalo, where the U.S. Navy warship was just commissioned in December alongside its namesake. But that's not its only link to the Queen City.
When the new combat ship eventually launches one of its unmanned Fire Scout helicopters for a reconnaissance mission, the sailors and aviators who operate them will be relying in part on systems that were developed in Larkinville.
And the advanced-technology defense contractor behind those innovations is now poised to grow its local research and development team, with assistance from the state.
Research and Engineering Development – better known as RED-INC – is seeking to more than double its workforce in the next year or two, bringing on as many as 23 more well-paid engineers and designers to its current 17-person office in the Larkin Center of Commerce. The company plans to spend $10 million to $12 million on its expansion, said Leo Kilgore, division manager for the R&D group, known internally as Team 2.
The California, Md.-based company set up shop here two years ago, with just two employees, after winning a federal contract using a Buffalo-based team. Its local group quickly grew to 11 within one year, prompting the decision to seek out a new office with help from Invest Buffalo Niagara.
Most of the company's work during its 20-year history has been for the Navy, where its founders spent their careers. But officials now want to broaden their market to include large-scale commercial contracts, including work for aviation companies like Boeing Co. or Moog Inc., plus other industries. The firm currently is working with 43North winner Coach Me Plus to design a health-and-fitness kiosk for the Navy to deploy both on ships and on its bases.
The firm already has workstations and 3D printers, as well as a lab area. But to support their growth, executives want to create a machine shop in the Buffalo office, giving them the capability to capture more work. In turn, they're betting that will enable them to create more jobs in Buffalo.
"We're pleased to see another company choose to have its expansion in the city of Buffalo," said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown. "We thank you for your confidence in this community and making the investment in this community."
Most of those jobs will be filled by graduates from the University at Buffalo and other local schools - one current employee is even a graduate of the Mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program - but some will come from elsewhere. Indeed, officials said the firm already brought in two new high-skilled employees from North Carolina and California, who were attracted not only by the work but also the lower cost of living and amenities that Buffalo offers.
"RED-INC chose to expand in Buffalo because it's a city with an upward trajectory," said RED-INC CEO David Aldrich. "We were impressed with the top engineering talent available from the local universities, the cost competitive nature of the city, and the level of amenities available within the city of Buffalo."
In exchange, Empire State Development Corp. agreed to provide up to $1.2 million in Excelsior Jobs tax credits, based on the number of new jobs RED-INC creates going forward.
"Your company had the opportunity to go anywhere in the nation, so we're pretty proud that you found your way to Buffalo and to the incredibly talented workforce we have here," said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday at RED-INC's Buffalo office. "I have no doubt in my mind that this is the right place for Red-Inc. to begin to grow your workforce."
She noted Buffalo's long legacy of aircraft and particularly helicopter manufacturing, dating back to Bell Aircraft in the 1930s and 1940s. "All roads, all helicopters, all airplanes, all ships lead back to Buffalo," she said.
RED-INC develops tools using emerging technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence to improve older applications. The firm is based in southeastern Maryland, just outside of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland, where the Naval Air Systems Command is headquartered.
It was founded in 1998 by two former civil service veterans, Karen Garner and Art Weaver, who spent a combined 50 years working with the Navy and "human systems integration." That refers to the practice of making new technology more user-friendly, sensible and even safe for whomever is operating it. And that's a big part of what the company does.
For example, a RED-INC official said, a F-22 fighter jet can fly faster than a human pilot can handle without losing consciousness. So the plane had to be modified to constrain how it maneuvers to protect the pilot.
Similarly, the technology behind the information displays that a pilot sees don't always consider how much data is simply too much to take in at once.
RED-INC also has an Irregular Warfare division that supports the nation's unconventional fighting forces, such as the Navy SEALs or Army Rangers, as well as cyber or technological operations.
The Buffalo office is part of a new group for applied research and development, performing engineering work to address problems. It includes mechanical engineers, software engineers and industrial designers, earning average salaries of about $74,000.
When the Navy needed to measure the alignment of different sections of a ship's drive shaft while at sea, RED-INC developed a specialized tool. And for the helicopters on board the Little Rock, the RED-INC team created systems that function like a video game to allow the operators on the ship to measure and adjust their accuracy, according to state officials.
Kilgore said the team was able to create applications that can help technicians complete a typical maintenance task in less than 30 minutes when it normally takes eight to 12 hours.
"RED-INC's decision to locate its R&D division in Buffalo further grows the City's reputation as a hub for high-tech innovative engineering facilities," said Empire State Development Corp. CEO Howard Zemsky.
RED-INC set up shop in Buffalo after a team led by a local technology and startup veteran helped the company win another government contract. That team then convinced executives that Buffalo had the resources and talent available through UB and other avenues to justify basing the engineering group here.
"As a southern Maryland-based company, one of the more natural things for us to do was to go and find a space for us to work down there," Kilgore said. "But we realized a unique opportunity that we had.
"Buffalo actually has a community of incredibly talented people. And we decided that was where we wanted to put this particular division in the company, and it's worked incredibly well for us," Kilgore continued. "There's a number of people here. They're young, they're energetic, they're exciting and incredibly talented, and it's made us as as successful as we are today."