Two startups for Austin

Published 12:06 pm Friday, June 1, 2012

The Austin Port Authority commissioned construction on this facility at 1805 14th St. NE, which now has three tenants and could soon have a fourth. The facility has been empty since Corporate Graphics closed in April 2009. -- Adam Harringa/

Lighted display business targets 100 jobs by 2017

Thanks to a couple of local economic development entities, Austin is now home to two startup companies with big aspirations.

The Austin Port Authority, which purchased an empty 25,000-square foot facility in May 2010 for $200,000 and brought on the Development Corporation of Austin to split the cost as co-owner, announced it has already signed two tenants; golf shoe wholesaler GoBe Golf and lighted screen printing producer Ellumilite, and soon could have a third. DCA Executive Director John Garry said the Port Authority and DCA have been renovating the building at 1805 14th St. NE — which was home to Corporate Graphics until it closed its Austin facility in April 2009 — since April based on the needs of Ellumilite and GoBe Golf.

“Many people would like to see us support small businesses as often as we can, and both of these have a nationwide customer base, and I think that’s a real appealing attribute,” Garry said. “They’re the type of businesses that can really have an impact on the community if they really start to grow. It brings dollars into the community from the outside.”

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The back of the building also serves as a storage facility for Smyth Commercial, and Garry said if the third, science-related business signs, the building will be at full capacity. Garry said the remodel — which sectioned the facility into units for each of the four tenants, including office space and a production area for Ellumilite and office space and a warehouse for GoBe — cost about $100,000.

Ellumilite also received a $100,000 loan from the DCA, a $150,000 loan from the city of Austin through state and federal funds, and a $50,000 loan from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

“With the DCA and the Port Authority, you have two of the best economic tools in Austin working together on this project,” Garry said. “You can share the investment, and share some of the risk while helping some very promising companies get started in Austin.”

Ellumilite: 100 manufacturing jobs by 2017?

Ellumilite Inc. will open in Austin next week. Shown is the printing cycle for the company's electroluminescent displays.

Ellumilite President Lori Anderson has an ambitious goal for her business, and she’s hoping to benefit Austin in the process.

Anderson, originally from the Twin Cities, said when they officially open and begin production next week, they will only have eight to 10 employees. But by the end of their second year, they hope to have more than 20, and by five years, they’re looking for 50 to 100, with all of the manufacturing jobs staying in Austin. Anderson said she sees a lot of potential for the business, which she says is producing lighted displays in a unique way.

Ellumilite's exposure tent, left, is used for developing lighted displays similar to a camera negative.

“Just getting a small portion of the multi-billion dollar advertising market would be tens of millions of dollars,” Anderson said.

Steve Comer, Executive Vice President of Ellumilite, said the startup is all about drawing attention to other businesses.

From retractable displays and signs to floor mats, table displays and posters — all lit by electroluminescent, or EL, technology — Ellumilite produces lighted signage for any need, Comer said.

Anderson said their process of silk screen printing on sheets of energy-efficient EL displays hasn’t been done on this scale that she knows of.

“There are very few manufacturers who have the type of setup we do,” she said.

Anderson said they chose Austin because of the offer from the DCA, and because the power source they plan to use, Auscon Inc., is based in Austin.

“We looked at other outstate areas, and found Austin was the best fit for us,” she said.

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GoBe: A new type of golf shoe

GoBe Golf owners Joe Allen, left, and Jeff Thatcher stand Thursday in their warehouse. GoBe will begin selling a unique golf shoe to country clubs by July.

With help from Joe Allen, Austin Packaging Co. President Jeff Thatcher is branching out.

Thatcher and Allen, both of Austin, have started their own golf shoe company based off a patent-pending design for the outersole of golf shoes. Allen said their trademarked design, Talon, is less about fashion and more about what’s best for golfers.

“We’re excited. We think it’s a newer market segment,” Allen said.

Allen, who worked in the golf division of Ecko prior to the venture — said they will sell almost entirely to country clubs at first using about 20 sales representatives — many of whom are former golf professionals — spread throughout the U.S. They expect their first shipment of 10,000 pairs of shoes, produced in China, to arrive this month, which will be followed by an order of 30,000 pairs. After that, Allen said, they will be ready to role out their 2013 models.

GoBe will start small, Allen said, probably with one customer service employee and one warehouse worker besides themselves.

Allen said GoBe will have its kickoff sales event in Las Vegas July 10.

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