TECHFAST draws crowd

September 10, 1999|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties have a good base of high-tech companies and are poised for more, the president of the High Technology Council of Maryland said Friday morning during the first Western Maryland TECHFAST: The Breakfast of Technology Champions event.

Close to 200 people were at the Ramada Inn Convention Center in Hagerstown for the TECHFAST event, part of a series of technology-focused breakfast meetings being held in different parts of Maryland.

"We've been trying to get to Western Maryland for some time," said Brasington, whose group co-sponsors the TECHFAST series with the TechGazette.

Brasington said she sees Western Maryland as "a sleeping giant," prime for both technology companies expanding from the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., corridor and new companies.


Admittedly, the area doesn't have a reputation for high-tech industry, Brasington said in an interview before the breakfast event.

Part of the problem is that a lot of the area's high-tech companies are not "immediately recognizable" as technology companies, she said, citing Hagerstown-based Phoenix Color Corp. and National Jet Co. in Allegany County as two examples.

"There's an incredible amount of technology going on under the surface," Brasington said.

Executives from Phoenix Color and National Jet participated in a panel discussion focusing on what their companies do and how the area's work force fits their needs.

The name National Jet Co. leads many people to think the company, founded in 1937, has something to do with airplanes, said Chief Executive Officer Sam Griffith.

Actually, the LaVale, Md., company manufactures precise equipment capable of making holes as tiny as 5/10,000ths of an inch in diameter, Griffith said.

It has been known internationally as the company that could drill a hole in a human hair, he said.

Phoenix Color Corp. employs technology in all areas of the book components and manufacturing business, said Ed Lieberman, executive vice president and chief financial officer.

All of the company's eight plants are connected through T-1 lines so they can send electronic files back and forth, Lieberman said.

Thanks to technology, there's a much faster turnaround time for orders, he said.

For example, a customer can send a design for a book cover over the Internet. The high-end prepress process sends the information to the printing plate without it having to be put on film first. More electronically advanced presses print much faster than they used to.

The third panelist, Garrett Community College President Stephen J. Herman, talked about the disadvantage rural areas have had in access to telecommunications advances.

The college created an experimental system to offer local Internet access to area businesses and homes, Herman said.

The wildly popular system, which later spun off into a sort of Internet coop, is now used by at least 90 businesses, he said.

Economic development successes from the venture include a local snail farmer who struggled for years and now is supplying 5-star restaurants around the country, Herman said.

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