Arlington solar firm with link to Bellingham eyes expansion

By Jim Davis
The (Everett) Herald Business Journal

India is a country where power can be unreliable at the best of times.

Flip a switch or turn on an appliance and there’s a chance that nothing will happen.

“In India, their grid is very undependable,” said Drew Zogby, president of the Bellingham-based Alpha Technologies. “They have six- to eight-hour blackouts every day.”

And that makes it a market that’s very attractive for businesses that can provide a stable source of power.

Businesses such as Arlington’s OutBack Power.

In November, OutBack’s parent company, Alpha Technologies, announced the purchase of a NavSemi Energy, an Indian firm that designs and manufactures solar power systems.

The deal likely means that OutBack can expand its presence in India.

And that means more jobs in Arlington.

Zogby said it’s a key step in the goal of expanding the Arlington company from 75 employees to 150 in the next five years.

“I think it absolutely will allow us to add more engineering support, sales and marketing” at OutBack, Zogby said.

OutBack has been in business for about 15 years and moved this spring into the former Bayliner boats and Meridian yachts buildings at a business park in Arlington.

OutBack makes electronics that converts and stores primarily solar power into energy that’s useable for businesses and homes. The same technology also can be used on cellphone towers — something that’s huge as more and more people use wireless phones.

The equipment is engineered and developed in Arlington and primarily assembled in Bellingham. The company uses components purchased from around the world.

OutBack’s products already have a positive reputation in India.

“Renewable energy systems in India and other expanding markets demand rugged, reliable and cost-effective technology,” said Babu Jain, founder of NavSemi Energy in a statement. “We’ve long been impressed with Alpha and Outback’s ability to meet and exceed the PV needs of challenging environments.”

NavSemi Energy, based in Bangalore, India, has been around since 2008 and has worked with Alpha Technologies for several years. The purchase — Zogby declined to say how much it cost — is advantageous for Alpha and OutBack for several reasons.

It allows the companies to take a lot of the good ideas from NavSemi to be utilized and sold by OutBack. It also allows Alpha and OutBack access to the NavSemi’s customer base in India. And it gives Alpha and OutBack a base in India to provide support within the same time zone as many of their new customers.

“Half our business is outside North America,” said Harvey Wilkinson, OutBack’s general manager. “India is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. This gives us a chance to expand.”

In India, most families — or at the least the ones middle class and up — already have battery backup for their homes, OutBack’s senior marketing manager Mark Cerasuolo said.

In America, solar power is used because it’s preferred. In countries like India, it’s used because it’s needed.

“It’s kind of like the world is divided between people who want to be green and people who need to be green,” Cerasuolo said.

In the future, OutBack and Alpha want to continue to expand its reach into markets in Africa, parts of Asia and parts of Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific Island countries.

“Even in the most remote places of the world, there is a need for basic reliable power and that’s what OutBack does and does better than anyone else,” Zogby said.

Jim Davis is the editor of The Herald Business Journal in Everett, Wash., a partner publication of The Bellingham Business Journal.

Tags: , , , ,

Related Stories