Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Highlighting Niagara's Business Gems

Three of Niagara's brightest business stars were highlighted at the Annual General Meeting Luncheon of Niagara Economic Development Corporation: Dennis Parass of Handling Specialty Manufacturing Ltd., Denis Dyack of Silicon Knights Inc., and Tony Rodway, Aero-Safe Technologies Inc. The three business leaders provided some interesting information about their businesses, and insights into the secrets of their success.

To say that the video game industry is exploding is an understatement. Projected to reach $46.5 billion in sales in 2010, Silicon Knights is riding the wave. Some of the largest video game development studios in the world are in Canada and 71 are in Ontario. Silicon Knights is a growing St. Catharines enterprise, with over 140 employees and 7 games to its credit. The company is positioned for expansion within the next 6 months and beyond. Ninety per cent of the employees are graduates of college and university, mostly from Ontario. Denis has been working towards creating a centre for the development of an incubator for video game development and his goal is to develop a credited college/university program, hopefully here in Niagara. To be successful in having their games distributed around the world, the company has partnered with multinational publishers such as Nintendo, Sega, Microsoft and Sony. Denis believes that Niagara's future is in the knowledge-based economy and he left us with this quote by Richard Florida. "Creativity has replaced raw materials or natural harbours as the crucial wellspring of economic growth."

Aero-Safe Technologies was incorporated in 1981. There are three sub-companies: Aero-Technologies, focussing on CNC Manufacturing, Aero-Processing, focusing on metal finishing and processing and Aero-Devices, focussing on assembly, integration and testing. Tony has worked hard at finding his employees locally by “growing” them in the local schools and he really believes in creating a company that is part of the community. He has developed an impressive program of recruitment and training that benefits his business, students in local schools and Niagara College, and the community by providing local employment. Aero-Safe recruits from Fort Erie Secondary School and has developed a great program called “Classroom in the Workplace” This program has been running for 5 years, training 10 students at a time with a technical teacher. A co-op program is available for students after graduating from this program to continue their development. And then, Aero-Safe can offer the successful candidates part-time and even, full-time work. There is an in-house apprenticeship program, developed with Niagara College. The business is now involved in several different areas: aerospace, defence, life support, optical, sitcom and space. Their facilities are located on Pettit Road in Fort Erie.

Handling Speciality is involved in the automotive, advanced manufacturing and entertainment industries. They custom design and manufacture lifting equipment. By 1999, 75% of their sales were outside of Canada and in the automotive sector. They started looking for opportunities and now, only 15% of their business is from the automotive sector. Dennis Parass, owner and CEO says that they don’t build equipment; they build relationships. A big breakthrough into another market of entertainment came about when the company completed the lift for the underwater show “O” for Cirque de Soleil. This show has been running fro 8 years at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas

Dennis believes that his success rests on his goal of making his company professional. For him, this means excellence, education and a code of ethics. Companies need to pioneer into new areas of business opportunity and to focus on building relationships first and foremost.

There are some great lessons here from these three entrepreneurs. It was wonderful to hear about these Niagara companies and their local and global success.

In the photo, from left to right: Matt Cutler, NTAB Director, Bunny Alexander, NTAB Director, Angelo Nitsopoulos, Owner, Quality Parkway, Heather Carter, NTAB Director, Trudy Parsons, Executive Director, NTAB, Mike Gammon, President, Brock Office Automation and Sathya Gnaniah, Project Manager, Niagara Immigrant Employment Council.

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