|May 01, 2011
Akron Polymer Expands
New headquarters, laboratory on Summit Street taking shape with doors to open on $1.6 million building in September
By Jim Mackinnon Beacon Journal business writer
Published on Sunday, May 01, 2011
High-tech startup Akron Polymer Systems is in the running to help make a better screen for upcoming generations of the popular Apple iPad tablet computer.
That's just the kind of niche APS specializes in, said co-founder and Chief Executive Frank Harris, who added that he can't say much more beyond that.
His attention these days is spread between such things as seeking customers for his small firm and making sure that things go well with the new APS headquarters and laboratory starting to take shape on North Summit Street on the outskirts of downtown Akron.
The $1.6 million building, designed with a slanted roof to complement the architecture of the nearby Akron Art Museum, is going up six months to a year later than Harris thought it would.
Frank Harris, the CEO of Akron Polymer Systems at the construction site of the company's headquarters in Akron. (Karen Schiely /Akron Beacon Journal)
The specialty company — the first business to locate in what Akron calls its Biomedical Corridor — now expects to move into the building no later than September. The total project is estimated at $3 million.
''I think it's going to be good,'' Harris said as he looked over the construction site. Work started about three weeks ago. ''I think the building is good because it gives the company more of an identity. I think that's going to be huge for us. Even for our customers.''
Former Gov. Ted Strickland came to Akron in November 2009 to celebrate Akron Polymer Systems' move to the Summit Street site, helped in large part with funding from Ohio's Third Frontier economic development program. The Ohio funding persuaded APS executives to reject an offer from South Carolina to move there. The hope — now as then — is the company will grow from 13 employees to about 40 in a year's time. All but one of the current employees have a doctorate.
Harris, a now-retired University of Akron professor, started APS in 2002 with Stephen Cheng, dean of the university's College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering.
Red tape involving the public financing of the project held things up, Harris said. Since 2005, the company has been working out of rental space at Omnova Solutions' offices off Gilchrist Road.
''The city has really worked with us,'' Harris said. ''Mayor [Don] Plusquellic has been very supportive of this.''
Delays included the need to get bridge loans to cover construction costs until public financing came through, he said. ''Right now, it looks good,'' Harris said.
Akron Polymer Systems staffers continue to develop new substances such as high-tech films and related products, even as work continues on the headquarters, Harris said.
''We work with much larger companies under joint development agreements,'' Harris said. ''We essentially will have pilot-scale facilities [here]. We won't be doing large-scale manufacturing. . . . Basically, we prototype.''
The new building will include a ''clean room'' to greatly minimize the chances that any materials are contaminated.
One of the company's main products now is a film used in liquid crystal displays, or LCDs, that allows people viewing a screen from the side to better see what's on the display. APS has an improved version of the film for what is called ''off-angle viewability,'' Harris said.
''One of the films could go on the iPad,'' he said. ''We're working on trying to get a contract in place where we would actually be putting films on the iPad to improve the off-angle viewability. They've got all these games, and they want it so the kids or whoever it is could see it at a high angle. That just shows you some of the things we are doing.''
APS is discussing contracting with a supplier to Apple — not Apple itself, he said.
''We're also working on flexible [films],'' Harris said. ''There's a move to having lightweight, flexible LCD displays.''
The displays, for instance, could be used in a motor vehicle dashboard and ''fold over,'' he said. Flexible displays can also be used in such things as laptop computers, he said. Other APS work includes developing lightweight polymers that can be used for photovoltaics and might lead to the building of such things as solar-cell housing shingles.
''Business is good for us,'' Harris said. ''This is the third business I've started.'' But this is the first headquarters that he's had to build, he said. ''It's more time consuming and difficult than you can imagine. It's not as easy as it looks. It takes a lot of effort. It's going to be first-class facilities.''
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.