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Updated: April 8, 2024

Navy-tech tie-up: Bridgton contractor Howell Labs acquires ODAT Machine in Gorham

Courtesy / Malone Commercial Brokers The acquisition of ODAT Machine includes its 40,000-square-foot office and manufacturing space in Gorham Industrial Park.

A Bridgton manufacturer of air and water treatment systems for U.S. Navy ships has acquired another Maine defense contractor, which makes fittings for the Navy's submarines.

Howell Laboratories Inc. purchased ODAT Machine Inc., of Gorham, for an undisclosed price in a deal that closed March 29, according to a news release. Norway Savings Bank helped finance the transaction and Malone Commercial Brokers helped coordinate it.

The ODAT business, including its 40,000-square-foot office and operations facility, listed for sale in October at $7.8 million. The facility itself, at 20 Sanford Drive in Gorham Industrial Park, was valued at $2.7 million last year, according to the town tax rolls.

With the addition of the building, Howell Labs now has more than double its previous space. The company occupies about 35,000 square feet at 188 Harrison Road in Bridgton.

Howell is owned by its 53 workers through an employee stock ownership plan, according to Joe McDonnell, president and CEO. ODAT was previously owned by Richard and Roxanna Pratt. The business will become a division of Howell and the 17 former ODAT workers will become employee-owners of the parent firm.

“We are very happy to report that we were able to retain all the current employees and make them part of our employee ownership team," said McDonnell.

Richard Pratt said, in a separate news release, “I feel very comfortable with Howell Laboratories' acquisition of ODAT. They are a great fit. I think this will be very good for the longevity of ODAT and the employees.”


Howell Labs has stated it intends to expand its footprint in Navy shipbuilding. "Our focus," McDonnell said, "will be growing the submarine portion of the [ODAT] business as well as supporting ODAT's customer base."

Rob Prescott will continue as general manager at the Gorham plant, and Kevin Babineau will remain production manager, according to Howell.

In an email to Mainebiz, McDonnell explained that Howell had been looking for several years to grow through acquisition. In June 2023, the company purchased GDL Paint, a three-person Standish business that had provided component powder-coating as a vendor for Howell.

The purchase followed the sale of another Howell Labs business, Shively Labs, a California manufacturer of FM broadcast antennae. Howell had bought Shively in 1980, but it had become a relatively small part of the company's growth. Howell sold the division in May to a broadcast equipment maker.

Then last fall, McDonnell said, his company was attracted by another business — and the quality assurance approval it holds from the Navy.

"Once we found out [the seller] was ODAT Machine, and that they possessed a Level 1 SUBSAFE certification to supply parts to the submarine program, which we don't, we decided this acquisition was definitely worth pursuing."

The Pratts are retiring from the business and wanted to turn it over to a buyer that would provide opportunities for employees, Richard Pratt told Mainebiz.

"[Howell Labs] will grow it well, and take the business to the next level," he said. "That was very important to us."

Above and below the waves

Maine has long been known for its building and outfitting of Navy vessels, but not all that work takes place at Bath Iron Works or Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.

Howell Laboratories launched in 1964, when it began producing shipboard air treatment and monitoring systems for the Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. The company later expanded to products that create potable water and others that reduce fouling, such as around seawater pipes and heat exchangers.

Today, the company has said, its technology is used aboard every surface craft in the Navy's nearly 500-member fleet — including those built in Bath.

Courtesy / Howell Laboratories Inc.
Howell Labs makes a variety of fluid processing and testing equipment for Navy and commercial use, including these dew point hygrometers, which measure air humidity.

ODAT Machine was founded in 1992 by Richard Pratt. In 2014, his wife, Roxana Pratt, became CEO. The business is a full-service machine shop serving a range of industries including defense and aerospace. Operations range from CNC (computer-numerical control) milling, turning and grinding to welding, injection molding, heat treating and more.

"I'm a toolmaker by trade," Richard Pratt said. "I think it's real simple: You find out what customers want and you find a way to give it to them."

McDonnell said the businesses complement each other, summing it up this way: "ODAT makes fittings and valves for defense and industrial customers; HLI makes larger, engineered systems for fluid processing applications, which may include those fittings and valves."

While neither business would provide details about its revenues, both do a mix of commercial work in addition to their defense contracting. But the Navy remains a major customer for both Howell and its new division, 36 miles apart and, ironically, both landlocked.

The defense sector employs more than 20,000 Mainers at over 150 companies. They include not only the three largest — BIW, Portsmouth and a Pratt & Whitney jet engine plant in North Berwick — but dozens of contractors and subcontractors. Defense spending in Maine totaled $3.2 billion during 2021.

Defense companies in the state have said they need to hire 8,000 skilled employees over the next five years, and recently teamed with the Navy and several Maine higher education institutes to develop that workforce.

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