By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — In a still sluggish economy, tech company 3Phoenix is doing three things right.
They hire skilled workers, seek out defense contracts and build things faster and better than the competition.
This was the gist of co-founder Joe Murray’s message Monday during the groundbreaking of the company’s newest project on Capcom Avenue.
“We knew … if we hired the best people and gave them an environment in which they could thrive, that we would be successful,” said Murray, noting the company turned 10 on Sunday. “A lot of our young engineers will say, ‘We win with speed.’ We can do a better product. We can do it more quickly.”
Also present were two of 3Phoenix’s five founding partners, John Jamieson and Bob Judd, and a passel of Wake Forest chamber, community and business leaders.
Some of the dignitaries may have gotten mud on their shoes — the company that likes to work fast didn’t wait for the official groundbreaking to begin moving dirt.
The 31,000-square-foot facility will consist of a large production lab and offices, much like the existing site. They expect to hire 110 employees, with salaries averaging at more than $100,000, plus $40,000 in benefits.
Construction is expected to be completed in early 2014.
From basement to big-time
3Phoenix started in 2003 with just an idea and a spare room. After an early phase of writing proposals in Murray’s basement, they gunned for projects a small company could do as well as major contractors — think Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.
Well, better, actually.
They searched the Department of Defense architectures and models, looking for places for improvement, said Murray.
“The only way that we were going to get in is if we provided a much better product, much more cost effectively, and did it more quickly,” he said.
A prime example of that work was clearly visible rising into the air behind him during Monday’s ceremony. 3Phoenix is building three radars for the military; one is already constructed several stories above the plant.
The ruggedly built $7 million radar is used for “multiple surface search missions that includes swarm boat mitigation, low radar cross-section detection … high resolution surface mapping, and drug interdiction,” according to a news release.
Naval personnel were once skeptical a small company could provide a competitive alternative to the big dogs, Murray said.
“The radar up there is about one-tenth of the cost of the Northrop Grumman’s system and provides the same capabilities, and in many ways, superior capability,” he said. “It’s kind of a testament to what we stand for.”
3Phoenix has also designed and made submarine masts with thermal imaging for better night vision and towed-arrays for surface and submarine sonar applications, for example.
Some of the equipment is made in-house; some elements, such as circuit boards, have been outsourced to Triangle-area businesses.
Room to grow
The original site was on Rogers Road. They expanded, building the 30,000-square-foot building on Capcom Avenue in 2010.
Murray said there is still room to grow onsite, which he said is ideal for the three major “tier-1” research universities nearby, the talent pool of employees to draw from and the lower cost-of-living compared to the Washington, D.C. area.
“This region is very unique,” he said. “We hope over the next few years we’ll have a small 3Phoenix campus here.”
The rapidity of the company’s rise hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“It seems like I’ve been here for lots of progress,” said Betty Jo Shepheard, field representative for U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.
Mayor Vivian Jones added that she was “delighted to have the opportunity to be here and help kick off this project. We’re so glad to have 3Phoenix in Wake Forest and want to do everything we can do to help them continue to thrive and grow.”