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Avtec Keeps Lines of Communication Open

Jan 02, 2018 01:24PM ● Published by Emily Stevenson

By Richard Breen

The bad news is you’re sitting in a line of vehicles on Assembly Street, stopped by a train. The good news is the train will eventually get where it’s going thanks to technology from a home-grown, Palmetto State business.

“If you see a train going through South Carolina, it’s being dispatched on our stuff,” says Michael Branning, chief executive of Avtec Inc. The Lexington company describes itself as a “provider of mission-critical voice dispatch consoles,” which refers to the communication systems most of us still call two-way radios.

Nowadays, Avtec creates systems using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) that police officers use to talk to 911 operators and airlines use to communicate with airborne planes. A system can consist of a local dispatcher talking to workers in the field while also being linked to dispatchers in other locations, as well as to a headquarters or command center.

Avtec assembles the systems in its facility at Interstate 20 and South Lake Drive, but at this point in the technological evolution of dispatch communications, the company considers itself more of a software solutions provider than a manufacturer.

“The hardware is one part, the software is the other,” says Arjen Maarleveld, company president. “It’s the way they work together that makes the experience.”

Starting small
It was experience that drove the birth of Avtec in 1979. Troy Branning had spent years in two-way radio manufacturing and had a history of working with railroad customers. After a brief move to the chilly Midwest convinced him he’d rather live in the sunny South, he launched the company with just $5,000 in capital.

Avtec landed some rail companies as clients, then began to branch into other industries. As the company’s communications systems evolved from analog to digital, Troy’s son Michael evolved from a part-time worker and Clemson student to full-time electrical engineer.

“I did everything from mowing the grass to designing circuit boards,” he says.

He eventually succeeded his dad as president and CEO in 1993.

“I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” Branning says of his ascension to the top post. He says he has focused on developing the company’s culture and stands by one of his father’s favorite sayings: “Take care of the customers and employees and the money will take care of itself.”

Since the 2008 launch of Scout, a VoIP console system built to run on Windows, Avtec has grown rapidly. It was named to South Carolina’s Fastest Growing Companies in 2012-14.

“The last 10 years, we’ve grown at an average of about 20 percent per year,” Branning says.

Growth has taken the company from its birthplace in the Brannings’ Batesburg-Leesville home to a facility in Gilbert to its current 46,000-square-foot headquarters, which opened in 2013.

“The town of Lexington – I can’t say enough, they really stepped up,” Branning says. “It’s been a really good experience.”

Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall is likewise impressed by Avtec’s impact on his town.

“What a joy it is to have those folks in our community every day,” he says. “All those employees are in jobs that pay very well, and they’re all out in our community on a daily basis.”

The new building also serves as a training facility for those who want to learn how to operate Avtec’s systems. Approximately 250 customers per year visit.

“We have a steady stream of people coming in from all over the world,” says Tiffany Rushton, Avtec’s director of marketing communications.

That creates its own economic impact.

“They don’t just come and leave,” MacDougall says. “We see them out at the local restaurants.”

High-tech jobs
The $6.1 million investment in the new facility was expected to help the company grow to more than 100 workers. Currently, Avtec has more than 125 workers and is expecting to increase that headcount by 5-10 percent in 2018.

Today, Avtec systems are also used by EMS, distribution facilities, the military, and utilities, among others. As the company’s technology has shifted from analog knobs to touchscreens, so has the type of workers Avtec attracts.

“In the old days, it was big cabinets full of circuit cards,” Branning says. “The mix of people changes. You go from skilled labor to programmers.”

Avtec recruits interns from the University of South Carolina as well as from Branning’s alma mater, Clemson University. Maarleveld says there’s plenty of talent in South Carolina to support the company’s needs.

“It’s letting the talent know that we exist,” he says. “We have the kind of culture that people want, and they can be on the cutting edge right here.”

Enterprise