Two companies share promising plans for future

Two companies share promising plans for future

URBANA – It's been a difficult year for many businesses, but two local companies said Thursday they won't let that stand in their way.

The chief executive officer of Champaign-based EpiWorks outlined his company's plan to expand into solar technologies, and the founder of iCyt Mission Technology introduced a new piece of cell-sorting equipment the company plans to distribute internationally.

Both announcements were made at the Champaign County Economic Development Corp.'s annual meeting at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center on the University of Illinois campus.

EpiWorks makes specially treated semiconductor wafers that can be made into chips for use in cell phones and lasers. Its chief executive officer, Quesnell Hartmann, said he expects to ramp up employment as a result of the push into solar, potentially hiring dozens in the next few years and perhaps hundreds in later years.

The company, formed in 1997 and operational since 2000, now employs about 30. Its products are used in about 5 percent of the cell phones sold worldwide – or in about 50 million handsets of the 1 billion phones sold each year.

Hartmann said EpiWorks is working with customers to develop solar cells that generate electricity at costs on par with those of fossil fuels.

Gary Durack, the founder of iCyt, told the audience of 120 that his company makes cell-sorting equipment and research analyzers, ranging in price from $250,000 to $1.4 million per machine.

The company recently unveiled a new product called Synergy that combines the sorting and analyzing functions. That product is designed for international distribution, which Durack said will be "a major milestone for iCyt."

The company had 50 full-time employees and a payroll of $2.7 million in 2008, but Durack said iCyt had to drop a few employees this year "due to the economic difficulties."

He said iCyt had $3.5 million in orders lined up in late 2008, when financial markets collapsed and capital equipment sales evaporated.

"It was a tough year for us. We had to lay some people off, and no one got a raise," he said.

Durack got the biggest applause of the evening when he declared, "We were founded in Champaign, we're growing in Champaign and we're going to stay in Champaign."

He said the presence of the University of Illinois – and access to its labs, faculty and student workers – helps iCyt compete with two major rivals that are part of billion-dollar companies.

John Dimit, president of the economic development corporation, said the economic news this year wasn't all glum.

He said Kraft Foods "quietly added 200 jobs this year," and his group assisted Hudson Technologies with a financing package that kept the company's local operations in Champaign, rather than New York.