COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Ascomnorth under new ownership

ACME – While many business owners are approaching the year with some apprehension, Dave Barth and Dave Wierenga, the new partners of Ascomnorth, are looking forward to an event-filled new year.

With the Jan. 1 purchase of Starr Garter’s ownership, Barth, employed by Ascomnorth since 1992, becomes vice-president of sales and administration, and Wierenga, who joined Ascomnorth in 1998, will oversee operations and engineering. They join Dave’s father, Mel Wierenga, who co-founded the company 20 years ago.

Ascomnorth is a supplier of communication products in Northern Lower Michigan and the Eastern U.P., and the largest full-service communications contractor based in northern Michigan.

“Several companies in the area each do bits and pieces of what we do,” Barth said. “But we’re one of a very few who can offer full services.”

Ascom was started in Wyoming, Mich. in 1979 by Mel Wierenga and Fred Billin. Four years later, they, along with Larry and Starr Garter, founded Ascom Inc. of Northern Michigan. The Garters assumed operations from the company’s Acme location.

In 1995, the company changed its name to Ascomnorth, Inc. and Larry Garter left the company the following year to start a communications consulting company. Starr then became president and divided ownership with Mel.

Garter is now leaving the company to join her husband in his consulting business.

According to Barth, the company has seen sustained growth over the years.”Sixteen years ago, the company operated with a staff of two,” he says. “By 1992, Ascomnorth employed 15, and we have a current staff of 25.”

Barth joined the Ascom team as sound system sales/designer. Over the years, he took on the responsibilities of selling and designing school technologies and sound masking systems for open office environments, as well as nurse call systems for health care facilities.

Like Barth, Dave Wierenga earned a degree in electronics and his years of experience in the business give him a solid background. Both men have earned certification through the National Institute for the Certification of Electronics Technicians (NICET).

Ascomnorth’s major customers are schools, healthcare facilities and businesses. Educational facility contracts account for about 50 percent of its business. The company specializes in complete school technology infrastructure systems: voice, video and data solutions consisting of telephone, voice mail, video intercom and/or sound systems.

For example, Ascomnorth recently designed and installed a phone system in a local school district where all of the calls within the school system can be placed using only three-digit numbers.

“They are not even local calls,” Barth noted.

Ascomnorth’s list of school clients includes Mesick, Suttons Bay, Frankfort, Indian River, Grayling-Crawford Au Sable, St. Ignace, Traverse City and Alpena, to name a few. Jobs are in the process for Kalkaska, Mancelona, Gaylord, Alba schools and others.

In the healthcare field, Ascomnorth specializes in the installation of Dukane nurse call systems. Current and former clients include Munson Healthcare, Paul Oliver Hospital in Frankfort, Kalkaska Memorial Hospital and West Shore Hospital in Manistee, as well as various nursing homes throughout the area.

Barth sees “sustained growth” in the year 2000 as area schools, churches and medical facilities continue updates and expansions. With sales showing a two-fold increase in the past three years, Barth says some of the growth has been “forced” on them.

“Pastors talk to other pastors, school superintendents to other superintendents and hospital administrators to other administrators about the work we’ve done for them,” he said.

While the growth has been welcomed, it has also presented Ascomnorth with one of its biggest challenges for the new year:

“We want more controlled growth this year,” Barth said. “That includes focusing on providing quality service to the customers we already have.”