‘We won the lottery’ | nnbusinessview.com

‘We won the lottery’

Rob Sabo

Hosting President Obama for a town hall meeting on April 21 cost Reno’s ElectraTherm Inc. a week of production, but President and Chief Financial Officer Steve Olson says, “We won the lottery.”

Life returned to normal last week for the staff of ElectraTherm after a five-day flurry of activity as company executives and employees worked with White House staffers and the U.S. Secret Service to prepare the company’s headquarters on Turbo Way for President Obama’s visit.

ElectraTherm had to clear its 40,000-square foot production floor the week of April 18-22 in order to host the president, who addressed a crowd of 425 people, including more than 100 ElectraTherm employees and their guests and VIPs.

“Yes we lost some production time, but it is not a big financial burden, and it certainly is outweighed by the benefit and attention we got having the president here,” Olson says.

Logistical challenges aside, landing the president for a speaking engagement was a public relations coup for ElectraTherm. Obama’s visit has led to a bevy of press inquiries, but Olson says its biggest effect has been to put the technology of waste-heat capture in the forefront of renewable energy discussions.

“The biggest thing by far for us is that waste heat is really not part of the nation dialogue of clean energy,” Olson says. “That is what we are trying to accomplish, and this was a huge help.”

The Reno company’s technology captures low-temperature heat from industrial processes and uses it to generate electricity.

ElectraTherm CEO John Fox and Olson gave the president a brief discussion of ElectraTherm’s business model, which the President worked into his speech and ensuing question-and-answer session.

“He mentioned ElectraTherm like a dozen times and talked about waste heat several times, and I was really impressed with how he picked it up and worked it into his presentation,” Olson says.

Obama’s visit came about after White House executives called contacts in Carson City asking for a suitable clean-energy business to host a town hall meeting.

ElectraTherm, formerly headquartered at Goni Road in Carson City, fit the bill in part because of its history of positive media coverage, tours of the company by local and state politicians, and a public outreach campaign by the company’s public relations and marketing staff.

“It was kind of a confluence of all these things coming together,” Olson says.

However, ElectraTherm wasn’t even sure it would host the April 21 event until early morning on Saturday, April 16. Staff spent the next five days paving the way for the president’s visit, but Secret Service and White House staffers did much of the preparation work, says Celeste Dodge, ElectraTherm’s corporate communications manager.

Secret Service agents managed all aspects of security and spent the week scouring the property and surrounding areas to make sure every facet of security was covered. The security agency also established detailed plans about how the president would enter the building, where everyone involved with the event would be situated, and dozens of other minute details.

“It was so seamless, and they were so courteous and in the background that you never would have guessed that such a high-level security team was on the premises,” Dodge says.

The Secret Service took control of ElectraTherm’s building at 8 a.m. on April 21, and the entire ElectraTherm team and their guests had to clear security checkpoints to be admitted back into their workplace.

“We had to get in line just like every other guest did,” Olson says.

Dodge says the hardest part of the preparations involved trying to do her job while at the same time fielding dozens of phone calls a day from people wishing to soapbox their political agendas or leave messages for the President.

“It was overwhelming to try and respond to all that with a limited team and have sensible answers,” she says.

Shuttering the manufacturing lines the week of the event may have led to minor delivery delays for customers expecting the company’s Green Machine waste-heat capturing device, but Dodge says customers were more than understanding.

“We told them we would send them a picture of the president standing in front of their machine,” she says.

Olson says it’s up to ElectraTherm to capitalize on the buzz and momentum created by Obama’s visit. Though direct benefits are hard to quantify, the president’s town hall meeting helped put ElectraTherm on the radar.

“Everyone has been amazed by the fact that the president came to our company to talk about what we are doing and waste heat,” Olson says. “We certainly will see a positive impact on sales and awareness and advancing partnerships.

“It is up to us to make the most of it,” he adds. “We won the lottery, now it is time to spend those winnings wisely.”


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