Diversification and expansion are keys for tech industry

Dave Pruznak and Bobby Keller work at Teltek, in Westminster, on Thursday.
Dave Pruznak and Bobby Keller work at Teltek, in Westminster, on Thursday. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

With the economy stagnant for the summer, the recovery has slowed in Maryland to a 6.9 unemployment rate in June and July, according to the Department of Labor. Despite a slow recovery in the last year, each industry has recovered from the economy in different ways.

While unemployment has held steady, local technology companies such as Teltek and the Knowtion Group have been hiring.

The Department of Labor classifies industries through a spectrum of occupations. Teltek and the Knowtion group are classified as professional and business services, which also includes architectural work, engineering, computer services, legal advice and accounting.

Professional and business services had the largest number of job openings among the private sector in June, according to data from the Department of Labor. There were 966,000 people hired in June, and 715,000 additional job openings.

However, professional and business services also had the largest number of separations, which includes layoffs, quits and discharges, at 943,000.

Teltek is a telecommunications company based in Westminster which installs and supports telephone systems. Last year, the company also expanded into IT work, which has been a great success, said Chris Nicoli, the vice president of Teltek.

Expansion and diversification has been the key for technology companies in a rough economy, Nicoli said.

"We kind of looked at the recession and said, 'We can be all in or we can let people go.' As far as the people, we weren't really in a position that we wanted to let anyone go, so we decided we would give everything we had to grow it and stay competitive in the industry," Nicoli said.

Teltek serves Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and D.C. In March of 2010, Teltek opened an office in Baltimore, and this past July, it opened a branch in Bethesda, said Carrie Green, the director of women in business at Teltek. The company has had 10 employees for roughly the last five years.

Nicoli said because everything is going to the cloud, a system where hardware and software are delivered through the Internet, there has been a lot of competition.

"Everyone's working a lot harder for a lot less money," Nicoli said.

Nicoli said with his small- to medium-sized company, he has been fairly slow to hire because each person does 6 to 15 percent of the work load. Every member on his team is cross trained in IT since the implementation of the new program.

In a world filled with automated customer service, Nicoli said a key to Teltek's success has been through creating relationships with his customers by answering phones when they ring, and meeting face-to-face.

Nicoli said his relationships with customers have made Teltek quick to stay nimble in the economy; if a customer needs something, Teltek will work to make it happen.

The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward

Looking ahead of technological trends has been a key for Brian Holsonbake, the president of the Knowtion Group, an umbrella of four companies Holsonbake has either purchased or began.

Holsonbake started SkyLine Technology Solutions out of his home in Eldersburg in August 2004, and has expanded his IT company to surveillance, fiber-optic construction and software development.

Staying nimble is how he has taken on so many companies in such a short amount of time, he said. Once the company proves itself with one task, the customer will tend to ask for another service.

"If I just stayed doing networking ... it would have been a lot more challenging," Holsonbake said.

Holsonbake said that over the last few years there have been moments when networking was slow, but another branch expanded, making diversification the key piece of his strategy.

Holsonbake has hired 20 people so far in 2012, and added 37 new positions in 2011. Holsonbake employs 155 people between his offices in Eldersburg and Glen Burnie.

The majority of the work is through government contracting, which does have budget constraints, but he works to make his company invaluable.

"We typically go after the really complicated problems because the risks are high, but the rewards are high. There's less competition," Holsonbake said.

One problem Holsonbake has solved is assisting in sharing of information to other government agencies in the state.

Green, from Teltek, agreed that finding out what is holding the customer back is the best way to move forward with business.

"I think everyone's paranoid with the election," Nicoli said of how the economy is recovering. "Definitely there are funds that seem to be releasing, but it seems to be in waves. They'll be released a bit, and then retract."

Tracy Turner, the one-woman show behind the Carroll Tech Council, said she had requests from the stockpile of resumes she keeps, which gives some evidence to hiring in Carroll.

"I can't imagine how things would be if the economy was really good," Holsonbake said. "It's already difficult to manage; it would be very hard to manage if the economy didn't have the struggles that it has."

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