- Associated Press - Monday, March 17, 2014

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. (AP) - When Hewlett-Packard closed its McMinnville-based Diagnostic Cardiology Division in 1996, about 20 engineers were asked to remain to complete a couple of projects. The crew included Neal Andrews and Steve Cooper, who considered themselves permanently rooted here.

Andrews had 19 years with H-P, and Cooper had 15. When the work finally ran out, even for the remaining holdovers, they had to find some other way to make a living.

At H-P, they worked for a small division, so had to wear multiple hats and be self-sufficient. That left them well-suited to branch out onto their own, which they did.

They founded the McMinnville-based Andrews-Cooper Technology, a product design firm that has come to encompass branch offices in Corvallis, Portland and Boston, plus a growing presence in Vancouver and Seattle. Altogether, their workforce is now up to 50.

The firm started as a team of four - Andrews, Cooper and their wives. “It was all four of us slaving at it,” Cooper said.

Andrews‘ wife, CeCe, has since retired. However, Cooper’s wife, Charmaine, remains part of the core team.

Three years ago, the workforce stood at 17. Then it really took off.

The boom was fueled, at least in part, by Microsoft’s decision to make Andrews-Cooper the lead outside engineer for the design of its XBox One controller. That was a high-energy two-year project.

Andrews said Hewlett-Packard closed its Mac operation in phases, beginning in 1995. Most employees were offered positions with H-P’s Medical Products Group in Andover, Mass., north of Boston. The rest were given a choice between redeploying elsewhere or accepting a severance package, he said.

Many ended up either in Andover, or at H-P sites in Corvallis, Vancouver or Seattle. Others joined Andrews and Cooper in striking out on their own in McMinnville.

Andrews said he and his partner were able to tap ex-colleagues for contract work, and that set the stage for eventual development of the branch offices in some of their new locations.

While the company continues to maintain its home base on West Second Street in McMinnville, only seven members of its crew actually work there. The rest are employed in offices closer to their major corporate customers.

“Having some presence close to our customers is important,” Andrews said. So much so, in fact, that their newly named CEO, industry veteran John Cadigan, is based across the country in Boston.

When they started, Cooper said, they did some soul-searching. They decided customers would come first, employees second and money third, he said, and they’ve stuck with that.

“We’re happy to have enough money to make it work,” he said.

Despite the far-flung nature of their operation, they consider their employees members of their extended family. They make it a point to gather with them for parties on occasions like Christmas.

Andrews said members of their team enjoy good benefits, lots of autonomy and offices with their own individual feel. And what they can’t do themselves, they out-source to colleagues.

There was a time, he said, when out-sourcing had a bad name. However, in the late 1990s, he said, companies began learning to work with a core group of employees and contract out for additional help with major projects.

Another paradigm shift in technology was taking place about the same time, Andrews said - a move from large, expensive and cumbersome electronic equipment to lighter, cheaper and more portable laptop computers.

He said the firm also benefited from a relatively novel niche. “When we started,” he said, “there were a lot of civil engineering firms, but not a lot of product design firms.”

Cooper said the company found itself having to hunker down during the start of the recession in 2007-08. Business started returning slowly at first, then really took off, he said.

Andrews said it’s worked out well for them. “It’s job security, because we have the flexibility and freedom to go wherever the work is,” he said. “That has been so great.”

The company has been part of a wide range of products, including defibrillators, a ski race computer and a wireless electrocardiograph. They are all detailed on the web at www.andrews-cooper.com, a site that also features case studies and client testimonials, along with company history and contact information.

The partners said they landed the Xbox One project through a former H-P colleague Microsoft had lured away from an H-P posting in Vancouver. “He knew us, and he was leading that effort,” Andrews said.

That’s led to additional assignments on new Microsoft projects. But the company’s not in a position to discuss them at this point.

Hewlett-Packard’s old medical products division is now owned by Philips Healthcare. As a result, it has become a key Andrews-Cooper client in Boston.

Andrews and Cooper said they traveled to and from Boston extensively for three years, nurturing the new connection, before committing to the opening of a branch office there.

They said they love their end of the business, and it hasn’t been hurt at all by offshoring.

“The fun thing is, how does the U.S. win in the world?” Andrews asked. “Innovation, engineering and design.” While much manufacturing has gone overseas, he said, most of the design work is still done here at home.

What’s more, thanks to automation, manufacturing is beginning to move back to American soil as well, Andrews said. He said that’s made “onshoring” a new industry buzzword.

He said the company is hoping to capitalize through its office in Corvallis, where the central focus is automation of the manufacturing process.

The partners brought in Cadigan in response to the recent surge of growth and continued expansion they see on the horizon, tapping another H-P former employee.

Cooper explained it this way: “We discovered we were engineers and not businessmen.”

He said he and his partner believe strongly in having people do what they do best. And for them, he said, that’s nurturing new customers, not running a large and far-flung business operation.

“We’ve been able to grow to 50 with the two of us and taking a very engineering-centric approach,” Andrews said. But it’s going to take something more moving forward.

They want to see the company continue to nurture its positive work environment while broadening its customer base and providing even more value to its clients. And they think Cadigan has the vision and experience to succeed in that goal.

“We take on a challenge and deliver an entire solution, concept to product,” Andrews said.

He said a 3D printer enables the firm to turn designs into prototypes in a matter of days, making it very nimble. And that’s a big draw with customers.

“We want to keep growing,” Cooper said. “We want to set things up to keep the company going on beyond us.”

Andrews agreed, saying, “Hopefully, we’ll have a bright future.”


Information from: Yamhill Valley News-Register, http://www.newsregister.com



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