Elliott Bay Design Group Celebrates 25 Years

Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG) celebrates its 25th anniversary and a successful first year following a management buyout by nearly half its employees. Since EBDG opened its doors it has designed tugs, research vessels, offshore supply vessels, and more vehicle ferries than any other U.S. firm.

Brian King, Vice President of Engineering, was one of the first employees hired after the company was founded in 1988. “In those early days we just worked so hard, going home for sleep and that was about it, scrapping for every job we could get. I used to think of it as University of Elliott Bay Design Group.”

John Waterhouse was one of the founding partners who purchased the assets of their former employer, Nickum and Spaulding Associates, to begin EBDG. “We were one of the first small firms to offer computer aided drafting for boat builders. When we started the business 25 years ago, computer technology was pretty basic.”

Today, margins for vessel operators have shrunk and clients are more aware of how good design impacts their operations. To advance in the marketplace, Waterhouse said, “We have continually looked at ways to improve ourselves and benefit our clients by getting more for less. This is expressed in energy efficiency and more advanced analysis tools for structural design.”

As a result of these efforts, EBDG grew to become a leading naval architecture and marine engineering firm. Then, in 2007 EBDG was purchased by American Commercial Lines (ACL). Shortly after the purchase, however, ACL’s leadership and focus changed and it became apparent that EBDG needed to be its own company once again — this time with a more inclusive business model.

“When employees are also owners there’s great alignment” said Joe Pritting, EBDG’s President. “We teamed up with our local bank, pooled our equity and bought back our company. Everyone from top to bottom had the opportunity to be an owner.”

The management buyout was executed in December 2011, making EBDG an employee-owned company with an unusually broad ownership base of 23 out of 39 employees. After one year of ownership the firm now has grown to 48 engineers, designers and support staff.

“One of the things that 25 years has taught us is that people are what are important,” Waterhouse said. “They do the work, keep clients happy and help create a productive atmosphere. We’ve worked hard to be the employer of choice by treating people with respect.”

“The buyout was challenging in many respects and we rose to meet that challenge,” Pritting said. “It’s a big success story and a return to the small business model. We’ve enjoyed zero turnover and look to continue our growth.”

During the past year EBDG’s projects have included reopening a New Orleans office, continuing its support of the Alaska Marine Highway fleet and branching into new markets.

“New Orleans is a pivotal market for us,” said Pritting. “We opened a new location in May 2012 and we will continue to grow that office.” The focus is on the offshore utility and supply vessels which support the exploration and production of oil and gas in the revitalized Gulf of Mexico.

The firm is also designing the new Alaska class shuttle ferry for the Alaska Marine Highway System, a long-time client. “We’ve been able to support this public agency for almost 25 years,” said Waterhouse. “Since 2006 we’ve been working with them to define and build consensus around what kind of vessel this new class of ship should be.”

Venturing into new areas, EBDG recently completed a design for a 350-ft, 38 megawatt well stimulation vessel for India’s state run oil and natural gas agency. “This project has driven our growth and given us an opportunity to learn how to respond to a different culture. It’s been released for bid for construction on the international market,” Pritting said.

"It has been a tremendous experience over the past 25 years to see the marine industry evolve" said Waterhouse. "The team at EBDG is looking forward to the next 25 years as a client focused, employee-owned engineering firm."


Elliott Bay Design Group LLC is an employee-owned company with offices in Seattle and New Orleans, providing unparalleled naval architecture, marine engineering and production support services on behalf of owners, operators and shipyards across the country.

For more information please visit EBDG on the web at www.ebdg.com

By Professional Mariner Staff