Geodynamics

Business is good at Geodynamics of Morehead City. It’s so good, the company recently purchased a second lot in the Crystal Coast Business Park, a 58-acre industrial park on the western edge of Morehead City. 

“We really need to expand our facilities and add to our team, in order to keep pace with our business growth,” said Geodynamics President Chris Freeman. The company was able to buy a 3.68-acre parcel in the industrial park located directly across the street from our present building.

“Our plans are now just beginning to take shape, but expansion is inevitable. This provides us with the perfect piece of property that we need to move our plan forward,” he said.

Geodynamics specializes in several areas of coastal and marine mapping, monitoring, data collection and analysis. The company uses high-technology instrumentation and sonar imaging to paint an accurate picture of what the bottom of the ocean looks like. Currently, it has a fleet of five research vessels; each is Coast Guard-approved and designed to perform a different function.

“Our unique mobility and quick ability to be on-site at remote research locations provide an exceptional opportunity for clients who are eager to take advantage of specific weather conditions, storm events or scheduling windows,” Freeman said. “In addition, our shallow-draft, highly maneuverable vessels allow unprecedented access to the nearshore coastal zone.”

“We have the expertise to conduct hydrographic surveys and create high-end GIS (Geographic Information Systems) maps for clients in the mid-Atlantic Ocean region, throughout the Southeast and into the Gulf of Mexico,” Freeman said.

Much of the company’s work is for the federal government, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Navy.

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“Port deepening is necessary for U.S. ports to accommodate Post-Panamax vessels, so we have performed projects for the North Carolina State Ports Authority and similar agencies in other states,” Freeman said. “Seafloor mapping and charting the approaches to the ports is critical to accurate and timely dredging, and it’s a never-ending task, because the ocean floor is ever-changing due to multiple factors. You simply cannot afford to have a ship run aground.

“We estimate there is a 200-year backlog in the United States to update all the nautical charts, so the focus is to concentrate first on the high-commerce areas. We’ve done plenty of work related to seaports in: Jacksonville, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; and Norfolk, Va. We’ve had contracts to do precision-based charting for NOAA in places like Port Mansfield, Texas; Venice, La.; and Panama City, Fla.

Geodynamics also works close to home for county governments and municipalities on matters related to beach erosion, sustainable beach nourishment, channel shoaling, nearshore sand resources and stabilization of inlets.

The company has been working continuously with the Carteret County Shore Protection Office for more than a decade and has completed assorted community service mapping projects for Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, Morehead City and Pine Knoll Shores “to help our local communities,” Freeman said.

The Geodynamics business was formed in 2001 by Chris Freeman and his wife, Sloan Freeman; she is CEO. Chris was working as a marine geologist at UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Science in Morehead City, and Sloan was employed at the Duke University Marine Lab on Pivers Island in Beaufort. At the Duke lab, she was responsible for managing and coordinating multi-million dollar research grants, contracts and projects in the field of coastal science.

Chris said: “We met while playing ‘ultimate frisbee’ – it was one of those rivalry games between the UNC and Duke staffs, and yes, we have one of those “house divided” flags at home.”

Home includes their children, Clara and Dane.

The Freemans’ first hire was David Bernstein, who is still on staff serving as chief hydrographer and senior manager of staff and projects. In all, there are eight full-time people at Geodynamics and three part-time employees. During the warm-weather months, up to five additional seasonal technicians are typically brought on to help with the survey work.

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Geodynamics is a case study in successful entrepreneurship, whereby two people with academic backgrounds had an idea for a business enterprise. They stepped out of their comfort zones and went for it with zest and gusto. Now, they are creating good jobs and contributing immeasurably to the local economy as well as the tax base.

Chris Freeman said: “The Carteret County Economic Development Council (EDC) worked very hard for Geodynamics. When we reached the point in our business that we were literally spilling out of our 1,250-square-foot leased space on Industrial Drive, the EDC helped with our efforts to expand to a permanent home at the Crystal Coast Business Park. We bought the land in 2009 and then custom-designed the building to meet all our specifications. We started up operations here at this site in 2011.”

Geodynamics’ office was built with the environment in mind, including green building features like geothermal heating/cooling, extra insulation for energy efficiency, energy efficient light fixtures, plumbing for rainwater toilet flushing, low-impact development of parking areas and low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint and flooring materials.

“We wanted our reduced ecological footprint to send an important message to the community and to our clients that we care about the environment that we help to understand,” Chris Freeman added.

“We are firmly planted in Carteret County,” he said. “One reason is because the marine science, research and technology sector here is so vibrant. In addition to UNC and Duke, we have the North Carolina State University CMAST (Center for Marine Sciences and Technology) in Morehead City and the 115-year-old NOAA Beaufort Lab. Combined, they provide good jobs for hundreds of scientists and support personnel.

“Because of this unique concentration of internationally distinguished marine scientists working in these world-renowned research labs here in Carteret County, we’re sometimes touted as the Woods Hole (Mass.) of the mid-Atlantic region,” he said.

“At Geodynamics, our partnerships with the academic institutions and these laboratories are extremely beneficial to our own work, but it’s a two-way street. We offer the ability to enable researchers to compete for and receive grant money by dovetailing high-resolution seafloor mapping with their ongoing research. Our science is quite specialized with very expensive instrumentation and software and personnel who work every day to maintain the cutting edge, so our academic and NOAA Beaufort Lab partnerships have really been a win-win over our 15 years in business.”

There’s a synergy here, and the cluster includes boat builders, the marine trades and many fabricators,” he noted. “We would like to see other marine science-based companies to start up or relocate here.”

Visitors to the Geodynamics facility at 310-A Greenfield Drive are immediately greeted by a canine “welcoming committee.”

“You might say we’re a dog friendly workplace,” Chris said laughingly. “There are five, sometimes six, dogs on the premises most days. The dogs get along great, and it’s just part of the family-like culture we have going for us here.”

The Freemans’ own dog, Obi, carpools with his owners to the office. “He’s just a big, old hound dog who has the run of the place,” Chris said.

Obi spends most of the time, however, appearing somewhat comatose, stretched out on a comfy couch in dad's office. Obi lets the younger dogs handle the “meet and greet” function.

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