Feeney Wireless is the kind of company that a lot of cities would like to attract: An established technology firm with growth potential.
But when Feeney owner Bob Ralston had to find a new home for his company, he didn’t think about packing up and moving to a new city, even though most of Feeney’s customers are outside Oregon.
“We love it in Eugene,” Ralston, 55, said. “It’s our home.”
In late March, Feeney Wireless moved from quarters it had outgrown near West 11th Avenue and Bertelsen Road to the WesTec Business Park, about two miles away, in southwest Eugene. A satellite office that had been in another west Eugene business park also was brought into Feeney’s new headquarters.
The company, with 47 Eugene employees, now rents two recently renovated buildings, just down the hill from the closed Hynix semiconductor manufacturing plant.
At 34,000 square feet, Feeney Wireless now occupies about double the space it had before.
City officials and economic development experts like to laud new companies coming to town. However, it’s more common for firms to remain in their hometowns and expand, as Feeney Wireless did, said Dave Hauser, president of the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce.
Such expansions “aren’t trumpeted in the same way a new company is,” he said. “But starting a company here and working passionately to grow it is the foundation on which our local economy is built.”
Feeney designs, manufactures and sells a variety of electronic devices that allow computers to communicate with other computers through cellular and wireless networks.
Feeney’s main products include routers and modems for mobile computer systems used in such things as ambulances, taxis, police cars and utility vehicles.
The firm scored a major deal five years ago, partnering with another firm, Creative Mobile Technologies, to provide cellular Internet routers for 6,600 New York taxi cabs.
The routers connect a taxi’s computer system to the Internet via the Sprint cellular telephone network.
A cab passenger viewing a monitor in the back seat can keep tabs on their fare, track their route on a GPS-enabled map and pay with a swipe of a credit card upon reaching their destination, as well as being exposed to a variety of advertisements and television programming along the way.
Feeney also makes a line of wireless surveillance cameras under its VaraSight division.
Feeney sells electronic devices from other manufacturers, too, packaging them with other types of equipment to serve customers’ needs.
And Feeney provides technical support and manages equipment and networks for customers so they don’t have to worry about maintenance or solve technical problems.
Feeney’s move to the WesTec Business Park was the latest evolution of the firm that Ralston, a former engineering supervisor at Emerald People’s Utility District, started a dozen years ago.In spite of the recession that forced many companies to shed workers, Feeney added 24 employees in the past three years, and it’s looking to grow more.
The firm expects to hire anywhere from 12 to 25 people during the next two years, said Vice President Steve Cary.
Recent job openings included a test and field engineer, tech support, an area sales manager and sales people for its video surveillance products.
In addition, the firm expects to hire people for accounting, marketing, software development, web development and shipping and receiving jobs, Cary said.
Ralston said he hasn’t had difficulty in finding people to fill jobs, partly because of the presence of other technology firms in the Northwest and graduates from Oregon universities.
The firm also finds and trains workers through the Lane Workforce Partnership.
“We know there is a good pool of regional employees to pull from,” Ralston said.
Feeney executives say the firm provides products and services in the so-called “machine-to-machine” market.
The proliferation of inexpensive, but powerful microprocessors are extending computer capabilities to many types of electronic devices and are the major reason why Feeney executives are enthused about the future, Cary said.
Feeney can help private companies and public agencies become more efficient by expanding their computer networks to such things as automated kiosks, video systems, utility meters, vehicles and different types of industrial machinery, he said.
The market for cellular routers and other devices has tremendous growth potential, Ralston said.
Some analysts predict that there may be anywhere from 10 to 50 billion interconnected mobile computing devices worldwide by 2020, he said.
“It’s connecting things,” Ralston said. “It’s very exciting.”
Feeney Wireless got its name from a San Francisco Bay Area firm that Ralston’s family had acquired in 1976 — Feeney Wire Rope & Rigging.
Ralston, with the financial help of relatives, started his firm in a 650-square-foot space on Tyinn Street in west Eugene.
As it grew, the company found larger quarters, culminating in its most recent move to the pair of buildings formerly occupied by bar code scanner maker Data Logic, which had moved most of its Eugene production division to Vietnam.
“When I saw the facility, I thought it was perfect,” Ralston said.
One building houses administrative, engineering, sales and customer support offices. The other building includes production lines and a warehouse.
Ralston declined to say how much money he spent on renovating the interior of the buildings, except that it was a considerable amount.
With new furniture paint and carpeting in the offices, and the large, well-lighted manufacturing area, Feeney’s new quarters are a contrast to its former cramped offices and windowless production area on West 11th Avenue.
In February, Feeney received the Regional Award of Merit for Economic Enhancement from the Lane Metro Partnership and Lane Council of Governments.
“Where we grow from here is up to the tenacity and energy of this company,” Ralston said.
“We love it in Eugene. It’s our home.”
— Bob Ralston, OWNER OF FEENEY WIRELESS
1505 WesTec Drive
Employees: 58, 47 in Eugene. Eleven sales people in seven other states.
2011 revenue: $16.3 million
Management team: Bob Ralston, chief executive; Ethan Ralston, president; Steve Cary, vice president; Justin Bloom, chief technology officer; Patricia Brennan, controller; Chris Anderson, director of video surveillance