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About 30 percent of the world's population—more than 2 billion people—use the Internet every day. And as the web continues its explosive growth, the need for an infrastructure to support all of this traffic also continues to grow. Connecting computers from one end of the earth to the other requires fiber-optic cables—lots of them. And that's where companies like The Great Eastern Group fit in.

The Great Eastern Group, a marine engineering company located in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., specializes in underwater cable installation. The company's expertise has made them a natural choice to run fiber-optic cables for telecommunications companies and further expand the World Wide Web's physical component. “Technology development on the marine fiber side is driven by the capacity demand. In other words, as more people use the internet, more capacity is required,” said Virginia Hoffman, president and CEO of The Great Eastern Group. “One of the items that drove fiber installation was the Beijing Olympics. And we saw a great deal of work prior to that. It slacked off, but now we have the Olympics next year in London, and there is some fiber work happening to support that capacity. There's a lot of data streaming from the Olympics.”

In addition to its telecommunications line, Great Eastern Group also works on marine engineering, environmental engineering and renewable energy projects. “At first glance, they appear to be fairly discrete. But each one of them has overlapping areas, and each one has developed from the fact that we do cable installation,” Hoffman explained. “We do just about everything to do with the marine environment.” Because these projects often take place underwater and on the ocean floor, GEG pays strict attention to environmental factors. “Each one of those cable projects requires us to provide a full environmental impact suite,” Hoffman said.

Great Eastern Group conducts environmental assessments in several marine locales. “For our environmental engineering line, we have done numerous small projects,” Hoffman said. “For the U.S. Coast Guard out of Miami, Fla., we do underwater biological assessments and surveys for either endangered species or for analysis of what's on the bottom prior to planned construction. We also have several projects that are in Australia, to investigate permitting for oil and gas over there.”

With electricity use on the rise while resources like oil and coal are increasingly limited, the search for renewable energy resources has intensified. The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates that the average U.S. household uses around 10,655 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. A single mid-sized coal-powered plant produces around 350,000 kilowatts. An off-shore wind energy system, on the other hand, is estimated to be capable of producing around 463,000,000 kilowatts. That’s enough energy to power over 150 million homes. GEG has installed power cabling for off-shore wind farms, and is beginning to expand into other renewable energy technologies. “We just had a meeting in Boston to get other types of alternative energy installations: tidal, current and solar,” Hoffman said. GEG also designed and is building a PV solar array for the town of Barrington, R.I.

Great Eastern Group's focus on cable installation projects means that the economic downturn mainly affected the company due to its impact on fiber-optic cable prices. “The strength of the euro determines the amount of fiber-optic cable that's installed around the world. There's a lag time, so if the euro is strong this year, or weak, we won't see the results for about another 18 months to two years,” Hoffman said. Fortunately many of Great Eastern Group's projects are contracts for the U.S. government, particularly the Navy, and as a result were not affected by the recession. “One project we’re doing for them is for the operation, maintenance and repair of the Navy high-speed catamaran, and that's out of Panama Beach, Fla. among other places,” she said. “We have a second for what's called barrier and mooring, and that's out of Calif., out of Port Hueneme. In the Navy it's a different scenario. It's the U.S. government. They pay their bills.”

Indeed, Hoffman credits part of her business's success to her close relationship with government agencies. “I realize that some people will think I'm nuts, but we have a very good working relationship with various agencies, and that's allowed us to be successful,” she said. Hoffman intends to keep building on those successes, but doesn't want to grow Great Eastern Group too quickly. “Our goals are to continue our growth, which has been extraordinary, in a very controlled, sustainable way,” she said. “I think a large company will grow to a certain point when it becomes extraordinarily inefficient and expensive. And I think the smaller businesses, being lean and mean and down to the edge, are well-poised to move the technologies forward.”

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