TE Technology one of state’s ‘best small businesses’

TRAVERSE CITY – Whatever the “hot thing” is in technology, TE Technology Inc. seems to have a way to cool it down, literally.

The Traverse City-based thermoelectric company sends its cooling units across the country and around the globe and recently earned top recognition from the state.

Last month, TE Technology owners Dick and Linda Buist accepted the “1999 Michigan’s Best Small Business” award for Region 2. The company, which marks its 11th year in business this year, was nominated by the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation.

Started in 1993 by the Michigan Small Business Development Center (MI-SBDC), the annual awards are given to one small business from each of 12 state regions. The MI-SBDC is a statewide network of 12 regional centers, with 68 satellite and affiliate offices. These centers provide confidential management consulting, along with business training, research and advocacy to entrepreneurs starting new ventures and to existing small businesses.

The winners were selected from the more than 6,000 companies the SBDC provided with counseling and the 5,300 it provided with training in 1998. The companies were chosen based on their economic impact and the involvement of the SBDC in providing assistance to them, as well as success in terms of sales, employment and business strategy.

“We serve so many technologies and are able to assist in the development of others,” said company president Dick Buist. “We’re nice to have around when technology needs us.”

TE Technology offers a wide variety of thermoelectric (TE) products, including TE cooling assemblies, TE modules and temperature controllers. From military weaponry to high-tech communications, thermoelectric units can be found cooling sensors and detectors. The company’s units have been on almost every space shuttle mission, working to control the temperature of various equipment.

The list of uses for these small TE cooling units goes on and on and businesses are constantly creating new needs for the products, Buist said. It is also a very attractive way to provide cooling, he added, because the technology is totally environmentally-friendly, with no gases involved.

“Thermoelectrics finds its way into a lot of technologies that are emerging, so we’re benefiting from that technology slope right now,” Buist said. “We’re now getting into cooling chips in computers so they can actually operate as efficiently as the technology allows.”

Buist, along with his wife and vice president, Linda, moved to Traverse City from Dallas, where they had started a company selling thermoelectrically-cooled motorcycle helmets without any support or encouragement from business organizations. When they decided to move north, they couldn’t get over the interest organizations expressed in them when they established TE Technology in 1988.

Compared to Texas, “Michigan is much more committed to business development,” Buist said.

With the help of the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation, Buist was able to put his ideas to paper and make a presentation to a group of investors at a Traverse Bay Enterprise Forum.

“That had a significant impact,” he said. “We didn’t get any investors, but it helped us crystallize our business plan and provided training in sound business strategies.”

Other local and state organizations also worked to get the company solidly on its feet.

“We certainly got a lot of help along the way,” Buist added.

The Buists also established the company here at a time when the number one priority for Michigan was to create high-tech jobs. Today, in an 11,600 square-foot manufacturing plant in Garfield-Heidbreder Park, a development of the Traverse City Area Industrial Fund in Garfield Township, TE Technology employs about 25 people.

TE Technology has created business relationships around the country and world, including Russia, China and Italy, but ironically doesn’t have any customers in Michigan.

In fact, Buist recently returned from a trip to Russia where, in addition to business, he is also involved in the research and development of organic semiconductor material for thermoelectric cooling units.

“The whole thermoelectric industry is growing,” Buist said, adding that the U.S. government recently allocated $20 million for research and development. “I think we may be at a point now where there is more activated interest in this technology.” BIZNEWS