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December 2, 2013

Innovation centers aim to grow revenue, customer relations

Photos | Pablo Robles (Top) Dennis Chalk, president of Marmon Engineered Wire & Cable, at the company's new East Granby innovation center. (Left) The Marmon innovation center launched on Nov. 12. (Right) Marmon is hoping products developed at its new innovation center will account for $20 million in revenue in 2014.

Two companies in northern Connecticut have built new innovation centers designed to raise their revenue and increase customers' familiarity with products.

“It's the idea of having a training center where you can both show customers how to use your technology and a show and tell space, where you can bring potential customers — or those you're trying to impress like investors — into an exhibit (highlighting) your product and how you're improving your industry or the world,” said Matthew Nemerson, president & CEO of the Connecticut Technology Council.

Marmon Engineered Wire & Cable opened a new $1.2 million Innovation and Technology Center in East Granby to help develop new products that hopefully will account for $20 million in revenue in 2014.

Meanwhile, Enfield-based FarmTek opened its Technology Center East in South Windsor to serve as an educational facility where the company hosts the Controlled Environment Agriculture School. There, students can learn about controlled environment agriculture and gain hands-on experience with hydroponics and aquaponics, said Jon Kozlowski, general sales manager.

“When customers put their hands on a product, when we meet face-to-face with them, help educate them on a process or growing a particular system, it makes everything better,” said Kozlowski. “Customers are excited to sit, learn and network with each other, bounce ideas off one another and us.”

Modeled after the FarmTek Technology Center West in Iowa, the South Windsor facility is geared toward potential clients interested in starting or expanding a business. Farmtek can leverage this advantage to showcase products in its pipeline and delve into its strategy to remain industry leaders, said Kozlowski.

“You want (customers) to be smarter about how to use your products so that they're successful, which helps make you successful,” Nemerson said.

Training is particularly invaluable to customers of companies in industries going into new areas of innovation and where products are becoming more complicated, said Nemerson.

For Marmon's new 16,000-square-foot center in South Windsor, the facility will be available to the 14 manufacturers that operate as part of Marmon Engineered Wire & Cable, a subsidiary of Marmon Group. In addition to a chief technology officer, the center will be staffed by 14 full-time and part-time engineers and consultants.

The team will focus on proprietary materials development and extrusion technology projects to support customers that require electrical or electronic high performance cables for harsh or extreme environments, said Marmon President Dennis Chalk. The new products will serve as the lifeblood of the new business.

“We're not supplying building wire or extension cords; we go after specific industries and, in a lot of cases, have to build and design products not only for now, but five and 10 years down the road,” Chalk said.

The company's goal is to become indispensable to clients by trying to identify technologies that will be required in the future, Chalk said.

“This makes us an important partner to them,” Chalk said. “Customers appreciate our ability to hand off this aspect of new development to experts in the field (rather than) having to invest in doing that research themselves.”

Roughly 25 percent of the Marmon's yearly revenue will be generated by new products starting in 2014, Chalk said. In embracing the philosophy of providing innovative products for harsh environments, Marmon doubled its profitability in the past 10 years.

“It comes down to our value proposition; what can we offer the customer that solves his or her problems and, in the long term, saves them money?” Chalk said.

Farmtek's Technology Center will have significant impact on its bottom line by educating current farmers, entrepreneurs, and hobby growers about the latest trends in sustainable agriculture.

“It's creating a market for itself,” Kowlowski said. “The more people we can get interested in controlled environment agriculture, the more of a demand there will be for our products.”

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