Inter-Tel plans hiring as market rings brighter |

Inter-Tel plans hiring as market rings brighter

John Seelmeyer

The telecommunications equipment business is only beginning to stir after sinking into a coma in 2000 and 2001.

So why does Inter-Tel Inc.

plan to add at least 100 jobs to its Reno operation in the next year, and why do company executives envision more office buildings surrounding their 78,000-square-foot quarters in South Meadows? For one thing, the market is beginning revive, says Craig Rauchle, chief operating officer and co-chief executive officer of the company based in Tempe, Ariz.

Inter-Tel’s sales $374 million in 2003 have been essentially flat since the start of the decade, but that’s something of an accomplishment.

One of its key competitors, Avaya Inc., saw its sales fall to $4.3 billion in its 2003 fiscal year from $6.8 billion two years earlier, and similar declines were common across the industry as business slashed telecommunications spending during the recession.

“We remained relatively flat, and a lot of people have looked at us with awe,” says Rauchle.

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Now that the economy is perking up, Inter-Tel thinks it can continue to gain market share and post sales growth faster than the rest of the industry by continued focus on telephone systems that customers want rather than features that engineers find cool.

The company was successful, for instance, with a system targeted to physicians that automatically calls patients on a waiting list to sign them up for lastminute appointments.

Inter-Tel’s bigger focus, however, is on finding ways to boost its customers’ productivity through telephone systems that integrate communications services ranging from traditional telephone service to a cellular service to personal digital assistants.

And on the hardware side, Inter-Tel makes telephone sets “endpoints” is the modern term for business customers.

Even as Inter-Tel expects to grow faster than the industry, Rauchle said executives expect the Reno operation will grow more quickly than its other locations across the United States.

The 100 employees Inter-Tel expects to add this year to its current staff of 150 in Reno probably rank the company among the fastest growing businesses in the region, Rauchle says.

The new jobs, he said, will come in customer service, sales and technical support positions that generally are above entry-level.

While a 3.3 percent unemployment rate locally indicates that the company won’t have a big pool of potential applicants locally, Rauchle says that’s nothing new.

“It’s been a challenge for us to find the right people in all of our markets,” he says, noting that the downturn in northern California’s technology sector helped generate applicants for many of Inter-Tel’s openings in Nevada and elsewhere.

Why will the Reno operation grow faster than the rest of the company? Rauchle ticks off three reasons:

* The state’s business-friend environment, particularly in its tax structure.

* The region’s quality of life, which helps attract and retain workers.

* A solid technology infrastructure that allows its engineers and customer-service personnel to move the amounts of data they need to work with customers.

While the company still has room to grow in its office building on Trademark Drive in south Reno, Rauchle notes that it owns property next door that would allow it to build a identical second building.

And, once the second building is filled, Inter-Tel owns seven acres across the street for further expansion.

But the company doesn’t take its future growth for granted.

The sharp downturn in the past three years the third recession company has weathered since its founding in 1969 was a reminder that good times don’t last forever.

And Inter-Tel runs hard to stay ahead of the pack.

“Like (Intel chairman) Andy Grove, we believe that only the paranoid survive,” he says.

“We’re always concerned that our competition is going to do something faster or better.”