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Local high-tech company plans major expansion

In a world where making and selling more widgets at the lowest-possible cost is a corporate mantra, Diode Laser Concepts has quietly taken a different path.

The high-tech company just north of the Medford airport produces custom components for manufacturing clients in fields ranging from medical instrument to automobiles and the food industry.

It has grown into a $3.5 million company with 200 customers, of which 20 percent are foreign.

In the next three to five years, however, President Mike Robinson sees Diode Laser Concepts taking off on a whole new trajectory, forecasting sales growth to reach $10 million while growing from a staff of 25 to between 40 and 50 employees.

"We don't offer a cookie-cutter approach," Robinson said. "We know engineering disciplines and we provide engineering services to our customers that typically improves their design. The nuances of what a laser module does can have a value-added effect; by providing more than just a product we can help them improve their design and performance — potentially reducing their costs."

Diode Laser Concepts' success and plans for growth earned it a $10,000 economic development grant last week from the Jackson County Board of Commissioners as part of its Economic Action Initiative program. The program awards grants to companies that plan to add family-wage jobs in the county.

DLC was founded in 1991, moved to Vilas Industrial Park in 1997 and has been in its present 6,200-square-foot location since 2001. The firm saw revenue jump 35 percent in 2012 and corresponding office crowding.

The company expects to move into a 15,000-square-foot building on Commerce Drive, off of Crater Lake Highway, in late June.

"Our administrative personnel ended up in our conference room and various other places trying to find desks," Robinson said. "We've outgrown this facility and it necessitated going beyond a couple thousand more feet. If we were going to make this move, I said, let's do it on a 10-year scale."

None of the company's clients are local, Robinson said. Aside from a major Texas customer most are in the Eastern time zone. Most clients are private companies, although just under 10 percent of the business involves government agencies, including the Defense Department.

"There weren't a lot of people doing what we did when we started," Robinson said. "There were just a few companies."

Since then, it's become a crowded field, splitting into two realms, he said.

"At the low-end, there are inexpensive Asian products, such as laser pointers that everyone is familiar with, and the high-end performance companies are making components to customers' specifications."

Diode Laser Concepts has 10 competitors on "an apples to apples basis," he said. "Our niche is making laser modules for the original equipment market. We don't want to provide standard products."

The company has doubled revenue in the last decade and as recently as 2005, Diode Laser Concepts had 80 clients and less than 5 percent of its work was with foreign customers.

While the events following the 9/11 terrorist attacks didn't have an impact on the company, the credit crunch leading to recession smothered its auto-related business.

"Prior to 2008, 25 percent of our business involved the automotive market," he said. "It went to zero in a few months and it hasn't come back."

In some cases it was a matter of companies DLC worked with seeing their customers go away. Even as auto industry customers faded, new opportunities arose.

"What is driving our current growth is a technology change that came in 2008 and 2009, moving to different laser wave lengths and product mixes," Robinson said. "We positioned ourselves to capitalize on that and 85 percent of the growth we saw last year was from moving into those new technologies."

The new technology involves violet lasers and green lasers along with machine vision.

"It's a rapidly expanding product niche where they use one of our products, matching it with a camera system," Robinson said. "That allows everything from facial recognition to 3-D models to conveyor belt scanning used by food processors to monitor rejects."

Reach Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

Robert Larson, an assembler with Diode Laser Concepts, aligns a laser at the company’s facility in Central Point Monday. The company, which is planning for a major expansion, was recently recognized with an economic development grant from the county.