Monday, 22 July 2002 09:36

High-tech solutions

For the past nine months Solon-based Keithley Instruments has been riding a tidal wave of investor confidence, strong revenue and industry buzz.

But the rise to public prominence that some might classify as an overnight sensation was, in reality, more a result of some sure-footed planning.

Soon after he took over the top office in 1993, President and CEO Joseph Keithley began steering the company his father founded in 1949 toward the high-growth telecommunications and semiconductor markets. That change meant a move away from the analog measuring devices synonymous with the company's past.

In their place, Keithley instituted a focus on software-based applications, which have turned out to be far more powerful and versatile when it comes to doing business in the ultraconnected 21st century.

Part of the challenge of being successful in these markets is the ability to create products that can keep up with the speed of miniaturization. Keithley has gladly taken on this role as an industry innovator and created a culture in which new products are expected to solve problems that customers are experiencing.

"Our strategy at one level is our ability to focus on companies in specific industries and let their problems flow through us and bring a set of products back to that customer," he explains. "In fact, when we introduce the product, we're pretty sure it does what the customer wants, because he's been an integral part of the whole development process."

Keithley Instruments also casts itself not only as a developer and supplier of high-tech measuring devices, but as a consultant, too. The relationships forged between Keithley Instruments and its customers not only provide a thorough understanding of where a specific market is going, but also give Keithley an advantage over those who may be competing for the same clients.

However, it is not just a focus on research and development that has powered Keithley Instruments' rise within the industry. There are fierce, not to mention deep pocketed, rivals in the measuring device arena, a reality that has forced Keithley to realize the promise of high growth niche markets and the power of recasting existing products to meet customers' specific measuring needs.

"As opposed to say, a biomedical company, who is really creating from basic research something that didn't exist before, we're taking advantage of things that are in the marketplace," he says. "We're incorporating them into our offering."

As far as staying on the innovative edge, Keithley is always hard at work. The company recently unveiled a new Internet strategy that promises to better serve clients, as well as attract new global customers. At the company's Web site (www.keithley.com), visitors can get 24-hour-a-day access to Keithley's database of test application knowledge, as well as view online product demonstrations.

The site also serves as an opportunity for Keithley to target prospects likely to benefit from the company's product offerings.

"We're actually able to demonstrate a very sophisticated piece of equipment with an application engineer here in Cleveland and have the customer be anywhere in the world," explains Keithley, who has a rough time containing his enthusiasm about the power of his new Web application. "We did the first demonstration of this with customers in Holland.

"Now, imagine that opposed to having the salesman go and show the product, the customer is actually able to make the instrument work from his PC in Holland. That's innovation." How to reach: Keithley Instruments, (440) 248-0400

Jim Vickers (jvickers@sbnnet.com) is an associate editor at SBN.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:36

Fiber optics

Fiber optic technology had its first commercial application in the telecommunication industry in 1977; since then, it has grown to become the industry standard for terrestrial transmission of all telecommunication information, including telephones, computers, cable television and industrial instrumentation.

Because of the technology's significant advantages, most experts agree that today, any communication system that does not use fiber optics is essentially obsolete.

By far, fiber optic's greatest application to date has been within the telephone industry. Telephone companies began replacing their old copper wire systems with optical fiber lines early in the technology's history. Now, fiber optics comprise the backbone of all competitive phone companies' architectures, as well as provide the long distance connection between city phone systems.

Unlike the old telecommunication technology, which used electronic pulses to transmit information down copper wire lines, fiber optic networks use light waves to carry information over fiber lines. Each fiber line consists of a bundle of very thin tubes of either glass or plastic, called optical fibers. Each fiber is thinner than a human hair and acts as a one-way channel for transmitting information; therefore, two optical fibers are needed for two-way communication.

The light-pulse method of transmitting information or data has many advantages over traditional copper-conductor systems, including:

  • The ability to send signals over greater distances. Because light signals encounter very little resistance during their journey over fiber lines, they can be sent over longer distances without the continuous boosting necessary to send and maintain electrical signals the same distance over copper line.

  • A wider bandwidth. Fiber optics have an information-carrying capacity, or bandwidth, that is thousands of times greater than that of copper circuits. This means that fiber optic technology can handle the tremendous amount of data generated by our Information Superhighway society and move it fast enough to meet its requirements.

  • Immunity to electrical noises, radio frequency interference, voltage surges and water, all of which can cause service interruptions in electronic pulse systems. Fiber optic networks are also immune to eavesdropping.

  • Much higher transmission speeds with very few errors.

  • Less attenuation. Electrical pulses suffer greater attenuation, or signal loss, on their journey down copper lines than light pulses do down fiber lines.

  • Cost effectiveness. Fiber optic technology is easy to upgrade to higher levels of speed and performance. In fact, many networks already consist of much greater bandwidth than customers currently require, making the initial investment in fiber optics a cost-effective strategy for telecommunications companies.

All of these advantages are part of a system that uses smaller and lighter cables than copper conductor systems at a price that is competitive with the old technology -- and continually declining with increasing demand.

The future of fiber optic technology is definitely bright. Recent changes in laws regulating the telecommunications industry, such as the Telecommunications Act of 1996, have opened competition in the telephone and television marketplaces, spurring tremendous growth in both industries and driving the expansion of fiber optic networks. In addition, companies that employ fiber optic technology are able to offer customers more services, greater reliability and faster and clearer communications than those which do not, ensuring them the competitive edge in a tight market.

New products, such as two-way television and videophones, too expensive to develop using the old technology, are now practical thanks to fiber optics and loom just over the horizon. As the Information Superhighway continues to expand at a phenomenal rate, the bandwidth and high-speed capabilities of fiber optic technology become not just a luxury but a necessity. Paul Allen is general manager of Adelphia Business Solutions' Northeast Ohio office. Allen has extensive experience in the telecommunications industry, having held senior management and sales positions with MCI WorldCom and British Telecom.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:36

Dial up the basics

For most of the 20th century, the telephone industry was dominated by one company, the Bell System, also known as AT&T.

Designated as a natural monopoly by the federal government, Ma Bell enjoyed control over local and long distance telephone operations, as well as the manufacture and sale of all telephone-related equipment and technology. Naturally, the company thrived without even the threat of competition from outside sources.

But the Golden Era ended for the Bell System in 1982, when the Department of Justice decided to break up the monopoly by filing an antitrust lawsuit against the telecommunications giant. The resulting settlement saw the divestiture of the Bell System into a long distance entity (AT&T) and seven Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) which served the local market.

Judge Harold Green split the country into 160 local access and transport areas and decreed that local companies could not provide long distance services and long distance companies could not provide local services. While the settlement opened up competition in the long distance market, it allowed the RBOCs to maintain monopolies in their local markets.

It wasn't until the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that the Baby Bell companies lost their monopolies over local services. The law not only enabled long distance providers to enter the local market (and vice versa), but also struck down barriers that had previously kept new companies from entering the RBOCs' territory. The newcomers, called Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) have helped create, for the first time, a free and open local telecommunications market, driving the development of new technology and services and giving local customers a choice.

But how do customers choose between a continually growing number of local telephone service providers? Today, consumers rely on local networks not only for making local voice calls but also for a vast array of data exchange needs, such as Internet access, faxing, local area networks and more. Speed, capacity and reliability are of particular importance to businesses, and thus among the key marketing points stressed by local providers.

Other factors that differentiate competition include:

B>Technology. Fiber optic networks are by far superior to the old, copper wire telecommunications systems they are rapidly replacing. Local dial tone companies which utilize fiber optics can provide greater clarity, capacity and speed than their copper-bound competitors and are better able to expand with the growing telecommunications needs of their customers. Consumers will also experience less signal interference or loss and fewer transmission errors on fiber optic networks, enabling business to continue as usual, without interruption.

B>Customer service. When there is a problem with the phone lines or just questions that need quick answers, customers need to know they can depend on the accessibility and responsiveness of their local provider.

Calling features. To meet the needs of growing businesses and organizations -- and even busy residences -- phone companies offer a vast array of calling features, including call waiting, call forwarding, voice mail, caller ID, repeat dialing, conference calling, automatic callback and speed dialing.

Convenience. Telephone companies that can provide both local and long distance services, as well as advanced data services or access needs a business or organization may require, promote the convenience of having all your telecommunication needs met by a single provider. One company to deal with, one bill to pay.

Cost. The best result of the competition spurred by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has been the reduction in price of local phone services. By bundling local with long distance and advanced data services, some phone companies are able to offer consumers lower-than-average costs to fill all their telecommunications needs. Or, consumers can buy certain pieces here and certain pieces there, allowing them to shop around for the price and service options that best meet their individual needs. Source:Adelphia Business Solutions

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:36

Liable leaders

Being appointed a corporate director certainly is an honor. But it's also a responsibility.

Like it or not, directors are responsible for the corporation's property and finances, which means the directors must conduct and manage the corporation's affairs in good faith. Acting negligently and beyond their powers could make directors financially responsible for the corporation's losses. In the eyes of the law, ignorance on the director's part is not an excuse.

So, before you accept your next corporate directorship, it's important to know what the responsibilities will include, what level of care and diligence is expected, and how much you need to know about the company's corporate affairs.

Directors also should have a general understanding of taxation, since many of their decisions on the corporation's finances will have an impact on the company's tax liability. If it's proven that the corporation must pay penalty taxes because of a director's decision or action, the director(s) could be held financially liable.

To protect against penalty tax liability, all of the directors should keep a current record showing that the company retained its earnings for the reasonable needs of the business and that it had instituted plans to use this surplus. For example, plans for the surplus could include a building reserve, architect's plans, contractor's bids, etc.

Knowing specifically what constitutes negligence is an important first step. For instance, are directors responsible for corporate losses if they are acting on the advice of other professionals, i.e. an accountant or attorney? If the misguided advice is the whole cause of the problem, and the director acted in good faith, the answer is no.

Directors also are not responsible for the negligent acts of others as long as they didn't know about the action or had their dissenting vote recorded in the minutes.

Director liability can extend to creditors. If the directors approve a business action without the necessary capital to see it through, they are liable to the creditors. And if they pay themselves ridiculously large salaries or make it impossible for creditors to collect, they are liable.

To minimize your liability as a director, take the following steps:

1. Don't skip directors' meetings.

2. Take good notes and file them consistently.

3. Understand the financial reports and legal opinions prepared by the corporation's accountants and lawyers.

4. Make sure any dissenting vote or disapproval of an officer's or director's action is recorded in the minutes.

5. Read the minutes of all meetings and make sure all disapprovals are noted.

6. Consider resigning if you emphatically disapprove of an action or cannot attend meetings regularly.

In general, you would not be liable for losses suffered by the corporation as a result of poor judgment if you have acted honestly and within your powers. However, the best defense is to obtain a significant amount of directors' and officers' liability coverage in the form of an insurance policy.

The corporation typically purchases this type of policy on behalf of the board of directors and its corporate officers. These policies, while expensive, are worth the cost, especially in light of the potential liability. Louis P. Stanasolovich, named one of the best financial advisers in America the last four years by Worth magazine, is founder and president of Legend Financial Advisors Inc., a fee-only financial advisory firm in the North Hills. Reach him at (412) 635-9210. The firm's Web site is located at www.legend-financial.com.

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

The right balance

It's the kind of benefit employees are looking for -- a profit sharing/401(k) plan that effectively matches employee contributions dollar for dollar up to 4 percent of total employee compensation.

And the 77 employees at Digital Day, a Fairlawn-based provider of corporate Web solutions, have found it. Jacqueline Alt, manager of internal operations and human resources, doesn't think of the plan as a luxury. In fact, she considers it a necessity in today's top job market.

"In our industry, we have to be competitive for human resources," she says. "You have to have not only a 401(k) plan, but a really good one in place. The profit sharing plan is another major issue with the employees. They're looking for the best place to be."

Just how does a small business provide such perks? It's not as cost-prohibitive as it sounds, according to Mario Dolciato of Retirement Benefit Systems, an Akron-based company that specializes in designing, administering and investing retirement plans for smaller companies.

He says it's actually quite affordable to set up a retirement plan, and, in most cases, it is the employer who decides just how generous he or she will be, from matching employee contributions dollar for dollar to kicking in nothing at all.

"When we design the plan, we talk with a business owner and find out what they want out of a retirement plan," Dolciato says. "Every retirement plan out there is different. There are things that you can design in the plan to work for each company -- eligibility can be different, the vesting schedule can be different. If the business changes in the future, we amend the plan to allow other things to happen."

While plans differ from company to company, Dolciato says the most popular types of qualified retirement "products" offered by the IRS can be narrowed to the following. He explains exactly what they are, how they're set up, and what they cost to implement, fund and administer.

The S.I.M.P.L.E. IRA plan. Like the individual retirement account so many Americans are familiar with, this IRA allows an individual to defer and invest a portion of pre-tax income every year. However, an employee can sock away up to $6,000 a year -- three times the Internal Revenue Service's $2,000 limit for the Plain Jane IRA.

The catch? Each year the employer must match 3 percent of each participating worker's total annual compensation or 2 percent of every worker's total annual compensation, regardless of whether they contribute to their IRA or not. All contributions are vested immediately.

Dolciato says this is a good option for businesses with 10 or fewer employees. To set it up, employers need only contact a registered securities representative.

"There's no IRS reporting, no administration, no cost for administration," Dolciato adds.

Employees, who are able to choose the mutual funds in which they invest their money, pay an annual custodial fee of about $30 to the investment company, just as they would if they'd opened a regular IRA of their own.

The profit sharing/401(k) plan. Dolciato recommends the profit sharing/401(k) plan for businesses with more than 10 employees. The profit sharing component, as the name suggests, is funded by employer contributions only.

The plan document can be worded so that such contributions are made at the employer's discretion from one year to the next.

"The business owner can decide at the end of the year if they want to put $50,000 in, $100,000 in, or zero," Dolciato says.

Even if a business enjoys a year of record-breaking success, its owners may decide to contribute nothing.

The 401(k) component is made up of employee contributions and matches made by the employer. The IRS allows each employee to contribute a maximum of $10,500 pretax income annually (a figure indexed each year). A well-worded plan document allows the employer to make contributions at his or her discretion.

Some companies, like Digital Day, do commit to matching a percentage of employee contributions annually.

"But we like to make the document read, 'We'll put a match in if we'd like,'" he says.

Such wording prevents employers from making legally binding promises they can't afford to keep. And even if the employer decides to contribute nothing, the plan still offers employees the opportunity to defer and invest pretax income.

Retirement Benefit Systems charges a one-time fee of $800 to draw up a plan document. Annual administration charges are $1,100 plus $42 for each employee.

The rates, Dolciato says, are comparable with those of competitors. There are also investment costs, or fees charged by mutual funds, to consider. But setting up a profit-sharing/401(k) plan for larger groups allows a business to control how much it will contribute and when employees are vested for those contributions.

Employees, of course, are immediately vested for the balance produced by their own money, but a vesting schedule dictates when they're fully vested for employer contributions. Dolciato says workers are typically vested in 20 percent increments for each year of service and are fully vested after six or seven years.

The money purchase plan. A money purchase plan is a pension plan fully funded by the employer. Because it is a pension plan, it must be funded for an amount stipulated in the plan document.

"If you write in your money purchase plan that you're going to put 10 percent (of an employee's total annual compensation) in for everyone, every year, then you're going to do it," Dolciato says.

Retirement Benefit Systems charges a one-time fee of $800 to draw up a plan document. Annual administration charges are $1,000 plus $32 for each employee. Dolciato says some competitors charge more to come on site and talk with employees so they can each invest their own funds. He says the money spent is worth it, for it releases the employer from the fiduciary liability inherent in what he calls pooled accounting, or putting the money in one pot of investments.

The employer is responsible for the funding only. How to reach: Retirement Benefit Systems, (330) 666-8883

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

Pay-per-use

If you don't think that classic car you've had your eye on for years can be a legitimate business expense, Ronald Wesley is out to prove you wrong.

Wesley, who owns Select Leasing in Hudson, just arranged a lease for a local business owner who had been searching for the perfect 1967 Corvette. After Wesley located the car, he leased it to the business owner, who now writes the car off as a business marketing expense.

The catch? He drives it for business purposes, and included a picture of it on his business card to help promote his company as a "classic business."

Wesley says the leases he arranges are designed so that the lessee can write off up to 100 percent of the use of the auto. He says that 80 percent of his customers are business owners who are looking for cars for themselves and fleets for their companies.

For companies, leasing makes more sense than purchasing, he says. For one, there's no recordkeeping for the IRS: If you use the car 80 percent of the time for business, you can write off 80 percent of your monthly payment.

He says that's why larger companies like Kinkos and IBM, for instance, lease their fleets. Wesley should know: He's not only a car enthusiast, he's also an accountant.

"You don't have to prove depreciation, as with a purchase," he says. "You have an instrument that shows exactly what your depreciation is. And you don't have to monitor fleet usage."

In addition, you don't have to tie up capital on the front end, because you're paying as you go, only for what you use. With the average cost of a new car today at $21,000, companies that need fleets of 20 or 40 cars can be looking at a huge up-front expense.

Wesley says that 79 percent of all cars costing more than $28,000 are leased. This year, Mercedes-Benz is leasing 88 percent of its cars; Cadillac is leasing 96 percent.

But even with the growing popularity of leasing, Wesley cautions against getting trapped into a vehicle you really can't afford.

"Everybody's using it as a catch-all, low payments to get people in. But that's not what it's all about," he says.

He advises that before you negotiate a lease, you should know how much you'll be driving and the amount of wear and tear you normally put on your vehicles. He says the ideal lease arrangement has no down payment and no end-of-lease charges, so the lessee is literally paying month by month for exactly what he or she is using.

But if you find you can't afford the payments on your dream car, there's still hope, he says. Try looking into a lease on a used vehicle. Wesley says he recently arranged leases on several year-old Cadillacs for one company, at about $250 less than the monthly cost of leasing a new Cadillac.

That's because most cars depreciate about 25 percent in the first year, and another 15 percent in the second, he says.

"Some cars, after two or three years, almost don't depreciate," he adds.

"As an independent leasing company, my interest is in assuring that my customers are driving the car they want or need at a price they can afford with the service they deserve," he says. "Obviously, a satisfied customer continues to lease and is the single greatest source of new business.

"Customer referrals account for nearly 75 percent of all of our business." How to reach: Select Leasing (330) 650-9900

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

When all else fails

If you're like most business owners, the notion of financing extends only in three or four different directions -- cash flow, bank loans, investors/partners and public or private stock offerings.

But what happens when your company taps out its credit line at the bank, the investors say make do with what you have and it's simply not feasible for your privately held, $20 million manufacturing operation to go public?

Waiting on the sidelines of the funding game are numerous alternative-financing solutions. Which one to consider depends on your company's maturity level, its asset position and your existing client base.

Here are three options worth investigating.

Mezzanine financing

Mezzanine financing is just what it sounds like -- financing that fits on a company's balance sheet somewhere between traditional commercial bank debt and shareholder's equity. It's considered a form of debt, though it's often referred to as an investment, and is used during transitional periods of a company's life.

Typically, a business owner seeks mezzanine financing for things such as equipment purchases, management buy-outs and strategic acquisitions, and only when the company's regular commercial bank is unable to loan it further money and the owners don't want to sell equity in the company to raise more cash. Because they're riskier than traditional bank loans, mezzanine financing loans normally carry an interest rate of between 3 and 5 percent over prime.

"It is a more cost effective and flexible sort of financing," explains Greg Ferrence, managing director of the Ohio Mezzanine Fund Ltd. "It's an option available rather than bringing a partner in and giving up equity."

Mezzanine funds like Ferrence's raise money from institutional investors. In Ohio Mezzanine Fund's case, $9.4 million was secured from such traditional players as Bank One, Charter One Bank, FirstMerit Bank, Huntington National Bank, KeyBank and National City Bank.

The fund's managers then administer the money to businesses in amounts smaller than most traditional loans -- from $100,000 to $750,000. Often, that money is combined with a loan from a larger lending institution.

Purchase order financing

It's not uncommon for a growing business to find itself generating sales faster than the company's coffers can keep up with. And, in the early stages of a company's growth, few lending institutions will extend bottomless credit lines to cover that type of growth.

Worse, even if you can show a stack of purchase orders to substantiate your company's assertion that it needs more cash to meet orders, unless you have an invoice that shows you've already billed customers for delivered products or services, simple purchase orders aren't considered collectible nor lendable by traditional financiers.

That's where purchase order financing comes in.

"We find someone willing to take the commercial risk for holding that order," explains Lee Tenenbaum, president of Chagrin Financial Services Inc. "They put up the money or credit to allow the business owner to complete the transaction, whether it's buying extra raw materials or supplies or having enough money to cover a temporarily larger payroll."

It's a riskier proposition, Tenenbaum says, because the confirmed purchase order becomes collateral for the money. In essence, the lender banks on the notion that the products are presold to customers who will follow through and pay the invoices in a timely manner.

And, as with mezzanine financing, purchase order financing transactions are completed at a higher level of interest than traditional financing. But, says Tenenbaum, it's worth it, considering that in the long run, purchase order financing is done to conduct business that otherwise wouldn't have been possible.

Factoring

Factoring is the practice of selling a company's accounts receivable. A business owner makes a sale and issues an invoice to the customer.

Since most invoices run on 30-, 60- or 90-day payment terms, there's a lot of legroom for a small growing company to run into cash flow problems in the interim.

With factoring, a business owner could sell that invoice to a factor -- essentially an investor looking to make a not-so-high risk investment at a substantial profitable gain -- who advances the business owner cash against the invoice's face value, typically 70 percent or more within 24 hours, explains Tenenbaum.

The factor handles the collection process and the customer remits payment directly to the factor. Factoring fees are negotiated on a case-by-case basis, but because they're generally considered lower risk investments -- there's an invoice issued that's legally collectible -- the fees typically are not as high as for other alternative financing methods.

Size of the invoice, number of customers, total volume of business activity, collection period terms and the credit worthiness of the receivables are all taken into consideration in determining the factoring expense rate. How to reach: Chagrin Financial Services, (216) 292-2802; Ohio Mezzanine Fund Ltd., (216) 573-3738

Dustin Klein (dsklein@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:34

Simplicity online

Lehman's hardware store in Kidron -- "the gateway to Amish country," as marketing director Glenda Lehman Ervin calls it -- is one of those stores that surprises even the most seasoned shoppers, a place that can best be described as the 19th-century equivalent of a Home Depot.

There are whole departments in the 15,000-square-foot store devoted to decorative Old World hardware, oil-burning lamps and accessories, wood-burning stoves, grain mills, water pumps, garden tools and housewares such butter churns, cast-iron pots and pans and wooden spoons.

The store sells its wares to people in all 50 states and 162 countries through its 24-hour, toll-free order line at (800) 438-5346 and its Web site at www.lehmans.com. The clientele, which Lehman Ervin describes as a combination of "the serious and the curious," includes hobbyists, nostalgia buffs, campers, boaters, vacation homeowners, ranchers, missionaries, doctors in Third World hospitals, environmentalists, self-sufficient individualists Lehman Ervin calls homesteaders and even celebrities.

"Julia Child owns a stove from us," she says. "Martha Stewart has purchased from us before. And Burt Wolf (host of the CNN-produced "What's Cooking with Burt Wolf") was just here. He cooked on a wood cookstove, interviewed my brother and spent the day with us."

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:34

Free to dream

A local husband-and-wife technology team recently told SBN that, as a result of having a successful business in Akron, their most cherished "possession" is freedom.

"More important than any house, car or prized possessions, we have freedom," says Barb Vasaris, CEO of the anderson group. "We live in a nice home, not an estate. We drive a nice car, but not a Mercedes. But I would have to say our freedom represents 'The Good Life' for us."

A.J. Vasaris, her spouse and the company's president and chief technology officer, agrees.

"Our freedom is something we're really unable to put a price on," he says.

The couple does confide, however, that they have differing views of what 'The Ultimate Good Life' might be when they retire.

"My husband wants to live downtown in a big city, on the 15th floor, with a TV in every room. He wants to have his groceries delivered and have a chauffeur drive him around everywhere he goes," Vasaris laughs. "But I want to be nestled in a log cabin on 20 acres of woodland, growing my own food and driving my own Jeep."

The dream they do share is the desire to have a fabulous library.

"Who knows -- maybe our dream lifestyle will be chosen by a computer program one day," says A.J. Vasaris. "But on second thought, I hope not."

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:34

Spreading its wings

A jet plane may be the only escape from Central Ohio's orange barrels, but be prepared for a final send-off by construction at Port Columbus International Airport.

In the past 10 years, seven passenger records have been set; more than 6.5 million travelers passed through the airport in 1999, an increase of 1.9 percent from 1998 and 79 percent since 1990.

The airport's current terminal building, once it's expanded completely, will have the capacity to handle 10 million passengers annually. However, passenger forecasts for Port Columbus reflect a projection of 18 million passengers annually over the next 20 to 25 years.

To accommodate this growth, the airport has updated its master plan to ensure long-term viability, with $1.1 billion in facility and related improvements.

Here's the rundown of recent and upcoming changes:

  • Federal funding has been secured for a new air traffic control tower at the intersection of Sawyer Road and International Gateway. Design is to be complete this year, with groundbreaking in the spring of 2001. The $18.7 million project will take three years to build and equip. Land is reserved for a third parallel runway, south of the existing south runway and identical in length -- 10,250 feet.

  • The final, significant development of the terminal building, including a five-gate expansion of Concourse C, realignment of gates in Concourses A and B, an additional baggage claim device and expansion and renovation of the international gate and related facilities, will enable the airport to handle 10 million passengers a year.

    A new terminal will be built west of the current one in phases as demand dictates, eventually giving the airport 65 gates and the capacity to serve more than 20 million passengers annually.

  • A major roadway improvement in the planning phase would lead to the elimination of the traffic signal at Stelzer Road and International Gateway and creation of a grade-separated interchange, resulting in airport traffic exiting I-270/670 to pass under Stelzer Road.

  • Virtually all shopping and dining venues in the terminal building are new or remodeled.

    Nearly $25 million was spent on basic building improvements to facilitate the concession development, with an additional $10 million for individual tenant finish work.

    Focus was placed on Columbus-based companies, with the concession program providing airport users a glimpse of the city's rich business base, including Wendy's, Bath & Body Works, Damon's, Charley's Steakery, Cup O' Joe and Max & Erma's.

  • The new parking garage and terminal atrium was essentially completed this year.

    The airport now offers 3,400 close-in parking spaces, more than twice as many as before. For the first time, long-term parking, in addition to short-term parking, is available immediately adjacent to the terminal building.

    A special section of the garage is reserved for the Executive Parking Program for companies or individuals who wish to have a dedicated parking space just steps from the ticket counters and gates. The spaces cost $350 per month.

  • Customers who rent cars can now pick up and return vehicles directly to the garage, eliminating the need for remote shuttle transportation. New rental car transaction counters and office space are located on the first level; rental car fleets for eight companies are housed on the first two levels.
How to reach: Executive Parking Program, Port Columbus International Airport, 239-4037

Information courtesy of the Columbus Airport Authority

Published in Columbus