The Currency
5:21 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

The Currency: Nashua Company Scores Contract To Tutor Feds In Foreign Languages

Credit Angel Raul Revelo Rodriguez / Flickr Creative Commons

The Currency is our ongoing look at economic and business news in New Hampshire. 

Fireworks Industry Thrives In N.H. Amid Loose Regulations

Backyard pyrotechnics are a favorite—and legal—way for Granite Staters to celebrate the Fourth of July.  And the fireworks lobby has been fighting to not only keep them legal, but to deregulate them. 

Credit Michael Cramer / Flickr Creative Commons

Two years ago this week in Pelham, a homeowner piled up nearly 350 mortar shells on his deck. And when sparks from a stray spinner landed on them, they exploded and more than a dozen people were injured. In 2011, the legislature had legalized those two types of fireworks.

And some, like Democratic Representative Laura Pantelakos blame those devices for the accident. “In Pelham, we can say it was a human error, which it was, but if we had not allowed those things to come into the state it wouldn’t have happened,” she says. 

Others, like Bill Weimer, the Vice President of Phantom Fireworks based in Ohio, say safety instructions weren’t followed.  And Phantom poured about seven thousand dollars into a lobbying firm to fight legislation this past year that would’ve seen a ban on those devices reinstated.  “Re-loadable mortars are one of the most popular single items we sell," Weimer says.

Phantom Fireworks runs stores in Londonderry, Seabrook and Hinsdale. Weimer estimates sales of re-loadable mortars makes up about fifteen percent of their sales nationwide. “Loading a shell into a mortar, lighting it and then reloading a shell into the mortar—it’s the closest in terms of functionality that you come to duplicating the professional fireworks experience," he says.

Re-loadable mortars have become big business in the fireworks trade.

Christina Katsikas, the owner of Hooksett Fireworks, says reloadable mortars are flying off the shelves. And in general business has been good as people prepare for a three day holiday weekend.

And with legislative regulation a tough sell in New Hampshire, those sales are likely to continue.

Transparent Language Scores Federal Foreign Language Contract

If you land a job at the US State Department, the CIA, or get tapped to work in military intelligence, there’s a good chance you’ll have to take a crash course in a foreign language.  In fact, the feds are famous for turning out linguists at lightning speed.  What’s less famous is the company behind many of these software programs—Nashua-based Transparent Language. It’s all web-based, and you can try it free online.  

The government is by far Transparent’s biggest customer, and is about to get a lot bigger.  But since its founding in 1991, the company has also had corporations, libraries, and universities like MIT, Kent State, and West Point on its client list. 

I recently talked with Founder and CEO Michael Quinlan and asked him what makes Transparent Language’s software different from what you might pick up on Amazon or at the airport.

“There are for instance about 50 language schools and programs around the United States government.  And they all teach different things," Quinlan says. "The State Department needs to teach language in a different way than the Army or the Justice Department or whatever.  They’re talking about different things, they need to be able to read different things, to say different things.  So you need an infrastructure that supports everybody who’s trying to teach a language, learn a language, run a language program, instead of just saying ‘Oh, I have a little course in Armenian.’”

Q: You mentioned the State Department and of course the Department of Defense—being your largest customer—but your company recently announced a big change giving greater access still to federal workers.  Can you describe that?

A: Until recently, our software—people just call it the CL-150—until recently, that was licensed for use by all of the linguists and some linguist-focused organizations in the US government, like Special Operations Command, Foreign Area Officers who work with other militaries, the schools, like Defense Language Institute.  These kinds of language-focused organizations and language-focused programs licensed our technology for use by all of their students and staff and instructors.  Now, what has changed is that the Department of Defense, through their language portal, which is called ‘Joint Language University,’ they’ve decided to make our product available to all personnel and all programs in the US government.  This is a pretty big deal.  So it means that if you are, you know, in the Justice Department or if you are a soldier, a sailor, or anybody who has a .gov or a .mil email address, or if you are running a language program in the US government, that you can use the CL-150, and that’s a very big change.

Q: So what does this change mean for your company and your company’s bottom line?

A: Our revenue in the government is enterprise licenses, so much per year, and now all of your instructors and students can use it.  And the Joint Language University license is similar, except that it will adjust.  It will be a larger amount if there are more people and more organizations in the government that are actually using our product.  So we don’t know how much—it depends on how many people are using it, and which programs and things like that.  I think it is a significant inflection point for our business.  And it makes us able to support the whole US government.  I mean, that’s huge for us!

Quinlan says a lot of that money will be plowed into other initiatives.  One of those is the 7,000 Languages Project, in which Transparent creates programs to help preserve and revive languages that have little commercial or national security value.

Check here again next Wednesday for The Currency, a weekly look at business and economic news in New Hampshire.