Spokane Journal of Business

Itron plans to add jobs here

Company experiences healthy jumps in revenues, sees order pipeline swell

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Itron Inc., the Spokane-based maker of automated meter-reading systems, expects to boost employment at its operations here by up to 30 percent, President and CEO LeRoy Nosbaum told a gathering of businesspeople last week.

After struggling for several years, the company has enjoyed significant gains this year. Revenues are expected to grow 15 percent this year to $212 million, and earnings are projected to nearly double, Nosbaum said.

Speaking to a Deans Business Forum breakfast at Gonzaga University, Nosbaum said Itrons Spokane work force should grow 25 percent to 30 percent in the next four years. The company currently employs 400 people here and another 600 at plants in Minnesota, North Carolina, California, France, and England.

Itron, which serves energy and water utilities, also announced last week that it had booked $55 million worth of new orders since its fiscal third quarter began July 1, giving it $175 million in new orders year-to-date, compared with $147 million in all of last year.

We are delighted with the pace of new business bookings this year, and continue to look for good revenue and earnings growth in the second half of 2001, Nosbaum said in that announcement.

Nosbaum also is projecting a five-fold increase in international sales by 2004. International orders are expected to total about $20 million this year, or about 10 percent of the companys total sales. Itron currently supplies 65 percent of the hand-held meter-reading devices deployed in Japan, he asserts. As more countries move toward automation, Nosbaum says, Itron has a big opportunity for growth.

Another factor he sees as beneficial to Itrons future is an expected $1 trillion in upgrade work thats expected to be done to the nations water-supply infrastructure in coming years. Itron spokeswoman Mima Scarpelli explains that water pipes and other supply infrastructure in many U.S. communities are old and in need of replacement. The upgrades likely will include new water meters, creating new potential customers for Itrons automated meter-reading products, she says.

Nosbaums speech came one week after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and just one day after the stock market resumed full activity. Those events, however, arent expected to impact Itrons projections adversely, Scarpelli says.

Historically, she says, the company has been generally immune to economic shifts. At times when utilities are trying to save money, they seek products that help them manage their power and water resources more efficiently, she adds.

Nosbaum attributes Itrons current success to a culture shift within the company that began in 1999, when he became president and CEO. He says the company has sought to increase its value to customers, encourage development of employee potential, boost commitment to teamwork, and challenge the status quo.

The company also restructured itself, consolidating operations and reducing the complexity of its product line, which had contained multiple products that performed the same tasks.

Part of that consolidation included closing a Spokane manufacturing operation that employed 100 people, and shifting that production to the companys plant in Waseca, Minn. The consolidation reduced operating expenses, but taking unpleasant actions like that was something Itron used to avoid, Nosbaum says. We were afraid to make the tough decisions, but not anymore, he says.

The final phase of the culture change was defining a clear vision and strategy to provide direction for the future. Nosbaum says the company could see that utilities were going to need to become more efficient, and Itron would need to offer them products that would help them achieve that. Its difficult and expensive to build new facilities to meet population growth, so energy resources are strained, he says. At the same time, consumers are more in need of reliable electrical services than ever because of how much they rely on computers.

With energy costs rising for consumers, Itron also wanted the consumer to be more connected to the process. That led to the recent development of a small, in-home device that allows homeowners to monitor their energy usage, and, if they choose, to have the utility that serves them monitor the home temperature to keep usage within specified guidelines.

Itron currently has its own data centers that do consumer billing for the utilities it serves, but because of its growth, Nosbaum says, it might soon need to contract with other centers to do some of that work. He says the company currently is talking to several data centers, including some credit-card processing companies, about providing that service to its utility customers.

  • Adrienne DellwoC.

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