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IRISS owners Martin and Deborah Robinson always had ambitious plans for their business's Lakewood Ranch home, at 10306 Technology Terrace, but growth this fast even surprised them.
East County Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 3 years ago

IRISS to expand headquarters

by: Josh Siegel Staff Writer

LAKEWOOD RANCH — It’s easy to tell things are going well at IRISS when a walk inside its 33,000-square-foot global headquarters in Lakewood Ranch offers the sounds of punching-press machines and Michael Jackson songs and Christmas carols, depending on the room.

Eight months after opening, the $5.7 million facility still thumps with activity. The difference now is the activity can’t be contained.

IRISS, a manufacturer of industrial infrared windows for electrical safety that moved here from the United Kingdom in April, already has plans to expand.

The 16-year-old business, owned by Martin and Deborah Robinson, announced Dec. 4 it will add 15,000 square feet to its Lakewood Ranch home and hire 25 new employees in the next three years.

The expansion comes as IRISS has obtained many high-profile clients since coming here, including ESPN, Amazon, Yahoo and CNBC. It also strives to enter a new market — the power-generation industry.

“I would be lying to you if I said we thought we’d expand this fast,” said Karen Wells, vice president of global operations for IRISS. “We wanted to create the feeling of a high-end global technology company right here in Lakewood Ranch. We’ve done that. Now, expanding allows us to serve a new customer base.”

Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., visits the company’s headquarters regularly.

About four weeks ago, IRISS’ owners revealed plans to expand operations to help the business produce three new products for the power-generation industry, which includes businesses such as Florida Power & Light.

IRISS had also just made its first acquisition with its purchase of a company in New Jersey.

When the Robinsons — after seeing Lakewood Ranch’s nearby beaches, restaurants and clean-cut image as an ideal place to host international customers and students of its SMART Training Academy — sought to bring their business here in 2012, the Bradenton Area EDC helped it settle.

IRISS qualified for state economic development incentives based on its plans to hire 20 employees in its first three years.

It has already hired 28 people in less than one year.

So, upon hearing IRISS’ new need to grow, Hillstrom went to the Manatee County government and recommended another grant to support IRISS’ new plan.

If it meets its promise of hiring another 25 people to serve the expansion — for jobs that pay 15% or higher than the local average wage of $35,633 — the county will grant IRISS $28,196.

Wells says IRISS also wants to hire four more special-needs adults from Community Haven to do tasks such as inserting small covers over studs meant to lock the windows in place.

“Hopefully, IRISS’ success is a catalyst,” said Hillstrom, who is charged with recruiting business to Manatee County. “It shows others — especially in manufacturing — what can happen if you maintain your business here. You can continually invest and grow.”

IRISS shows others how to stand out in a niche market that fulfills a not-so-mundane need.

Wells won’t reveal much about IRISS’ new products, but she said they will help combat arc flash explosion, workplace hazards that happen in companies that work with switchboards.

A tagline for one of its new products will be: “Inspect the un-inspectable.”

“An arc flash explosion is the equivalent of three sticks of dynamite blowing up,” Wells said. “It stops your heart.”

The Robinsons’ strategy has been to make a IRISS family-oriented, fun place to work fitted with a gym, screened-in outdoor kitchen and a basketball court.

Motivating employees helps IRISS work quickly.

“Our industry require you to always have available inventory to service a client at any time,” Wells said. “Expanding will keep us ahead.”

Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].


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