Story by Henry Cuningham and Allison Williams
North Carolina businesses have been successfully following the ups and downs of military contracting.
And they don't even have to be next to Fort Bragg to do it.
An N.C. business that has international customers and an international business that has an N.C. operation are two cases in point.
There's a YouTube video that shows 421 bullets being fired at a black Chevrolet Suburban as funky music plays in the background.
The bullets make pencil-size holes in the sides and baseball-size marks on the windshield.
But Ultra Armoring boasts that the bullets never got inside.
The North Carolina-based company got its start in welding and branched off into armor for military vehicles to protect troops and then armoring commercial vehicles.
On Aug. 22, the Pentagon announced that U.S. Special Operations Command awarded Ultra Armoring of Kings Mountain a $45million contract for "nonstandard commercial vehicles" in support of combat missions. The announcement said the work was to be performed in Shelby through August.
The company claims, "If it's made of armor, we can cut it, bend it, weld it and paint it."
Ultra International has operations in three towns west of Charlotte: Shelby, Kings Mountain and Forest City.
President Frank Stewart "is always scanning the horizon for the next level of improvements and growth for this company," according to Ultra officials.
The company is working with Oshkosh Defense, a division of Oshkosh Corp., on the SandCat Tactical Protector Vehicle, which is being used in Latin America. The maneuverable vehicle is used in the drug war, law enforcement, border patrol and security operations.
Harnett County gamble
In busier times, Saab Barracuda produced 10,000 camouflage netting "systems" a month, running 24-hour shifts with 300 employees. Those days are gone. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, so has the demand for camouflage used to cover military vehicles, shelters and weapons.
The company has a famous name associated with Swedish luxury cars, but the Lillington plant operates autonomously - always has. Before it was Saab Barracuda, the company was owned by BAE Systems. CEO Dottie Womack worked her way up from a company receptionist in 1976.
And last summer, the company reinvented itself once again.
It looked at its strengths: employees accustomed to working with large amounts of fabric, a factory equipped for cutting, stamping and sewing material and, of course, a good relationship with military customers. The company moved 15 tractor-trailers full of equipment to storage to make room for a new product: parachutes.
In June, the company won a $5.6 million federal contract from the Defense Logistics Agency's Defense Supply Center for low-cost, low-velocity parachutes.
Now, the company waits to see if the gamble paid off.
Saab Barracuda is wrapping up the first parachute contract, and while managers feel good about the work they have done, they are waiting to see if they will be awarded a second.
Workers fold, sew and pack huge gray parachutes in a large warehouse once shared with the company next door, Esterline, another international defense company. An in-house government quality control officer randomly selects parachutes for inspection. The chutes are enormous, 93 feet long; they are used to drop cargo and supplies over war zones.
While the company continues to make camouflage netting - a Fort Bragg customer recently asked the company to create an experimental new pattern - the company has heavily invested in parachutes as a way to diversify.
Greg Moore, program manager for Saab Barracuda, says it goes beyond adaptation. "All of our products are about increasing survivability for the warfighter."