They all use KONE elevators. And they’re all connected back to Allen, Texas.
KONE, which is pronounced [Cone-Ay], was started in Finland in 1910 and expanded to the U.S. in 1981. In 2010, the global leader in the elevator and escalator industry consolidated operations into a nearly 25,000-sq-ft. office space in Allen Central Park. At the same time, they moved their central tool storage facility to nearby Twin Creeks Business Center.
They are the lead tenant in first phase of AllenPlace, which is currently under construction east of North Central Expressway between West Bethany and West McDermott Drives. The $26 million initial phase of the five-building, 700,000-square-foot office park will keep KONE growing and include additional office space and improved testing facilities. The company will occupy the entire first building and a portion of the second building in the office park.
Approximately 80 positions will be added at the new Allen facility, says Patrick O’Connell, a spokesman for the company. “KONE AllenPlace will be home to a variety of skilled employees, from sourcing and supply chain specialists; research and development engineers; product installation experts and trainers; to logistical specialists that are building job-site tool boxes and manufacturing specialists adding electrical components to our elevator products.”
Currently the KONE Torreon, Mexico facility is responsible for the construction of KONE’s base elevator cars and doors, the foundation of the company’s product line. KONE AllenPlace will start a new center of excellence for KONE Americas, picking up from the KONE Torreon’s base car and doors and making the elevator products’ electrification and installation processes come to life, Patrick explains.
Recently, KONE was named to Forbes Magazine’s list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies, featured on the list for the fifth year in a row. The organization also has several industry accolades including Elevator World’s Project of the Year award.
It’s no surprise that this top-quality company has found a home in Allen.
“Allen and the Dallas community has been a great place for KONE Americas to grow our business,” Patrick says. “We are able to attract a talented pool of candidates from the area and attribute some of this to the new housing and infrastructure developments, as well as a great metro area full of family-friendly activities.”
It’s no surprise that in-car and on-body cameras for law enforcement are becoming more and more in demand. It might surprise people to learn, however, that the world’s largest manufacturer of these video systems, WatchGuard Video, is located in Allen, Texas.
“What’s even more surprising, I think, is that we as a company are currently spending about $1 million every month in research and development to further video technology for law enforcement,” says WatchGuard Video spokesperson Jaime Carlin. “The needs of police officers are growing at an ever-expanding pace as more and more is being expected of them.”
Some court systems won’t even consider a case unless there’s video evidence, she explains, adding that WatchGuard is often called on to authenticate dash-cam or body camera video. In addition, the Obama administration last year issued $20 million in grants to help police departments purchase body cameras for their officers.
“The technology in this field is constantly innovating and evolving, and we’re doing our part to stay out in front of it,” Carlin says. “We know how critical our equipment and software can be for establishing a transparent relationship between law enforcement and the community they serve.”
Picking Allen twice
WatchGuard Video supplies equipment and software to nearly one-third of all law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Canada. Over 6,000 agencies use the company’s equipment including: the Cities of Houston and Detroit, the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, and the Texas State Troopers, as well as Trooper associations for 24 others states.
The company was founded in 2002 by CEO Robert Vanman and moved to Allen in 2005. They currently occupy a two-story 65,000-sq.-ft. facility that houses approximately 225 employees in the departments of engineering, manufacturing, sales and customer service. Because of the company’s growth and success, they have outgrown this space and are in the process of building a new custom facility nearby their current location. The move is expected to happen in the second or third quarter of 2017.
“Allen has proven to be a great fit for us,” Carlin says. “It says something that not only have we picked this city once, we’ve picked them again for our new facility.”
Sharing the company philosophy
Carlin credits the city with sharing the company’s support for law enforcement, adding that it’s also a great place to recruit and for employees to live.
“This is the tip of the technology corridor,” she explains. “With our need to recruit top talent in the engineering space, this location gives us great proximity to some of the top engineering minds in the nation. Also, Allen is a new city, and it’s very forward thinking. It’s a good fit because there’s a lot of pride in this town, which matches our company’s philosophies.”
Before moving to Allen, Formulife was constantly bumping into limitations: not enough space, not enough hours in the day and not enough efficiency. That all changed in Fall 2016, when they moved to their custom-designed 45,000-sq.-foot warehouse and production facility in Allen Station II.
“I expect that our new equipment alone will triple our production capacity,” explains Formulife Owner and President Brandon Smith. “But there’s also logistical efficiencies that come from being able to custom design our new facility, room by room, from the ground up. Everything is exactly where it needs to be to fit our process and flow lines, and we’re expecting that to also help to more than quadruple our capabilities.”
Makers of nutritional supplements
The company manufactures custom dietary supplements—primarily for the health and nutrition industry—including their own product line, Purus Labs. The business was started in 2008 by Smith, a former college athlete, body builder, physique coach and personal trainer who worked at the second largest sports nutrition distributor in the country before deciding to strike out on his own.
“Whether it’s a tablet, a capsule, or a powder, if it’s something you would find at Vitamin Shoppe or GNC, that’s what we make,” Smith explains. “We’ve been waiting about two years to make this move, so we’re definitely ready for it, and we have a lot more business to do.”
The company’s growth will add jobs in the city of Allen, he adds. Formulife currently staffs more than 65 employees and expects to more than double that number with their added production capability. “We’ve been bumping up against the ceiling in our old space for so long that it’s exciting to be through those growing pains,” Smith says.
A growing industry
The sports nutrition market is huge, and only getting larger as more people become concerned with their individual health and wellness. “You can see it even just by the media—we’re generally a more health conscious society than we ever have been and that’s helping fuel the growth,” Smith says. “But even within that space, our company is growing because of our reputation.”
Formulife has recently added several high-caliber athletes to serve as spokespeople for the company, including: UFC legends Urijah Faber and Paige VanZant, motocross racer Ronnie Faisst, and Team USA powerlifter Ray Williams.
“The longer you’re in business, and the more people you network with and the more everything grows,” Smith says. “Pretty soon you’re sitting in front of people you never thought you would and that’s what it’s been like to add these endorsers. For someone to embody our brand, we want them to live the same clean, performance dedicated lifestyle that we do, and these athletes fit that mold perfectly. It’s very exciting to look at all of the new opportunities ahead of us.”
Across Texas and beyond, Nine-Band Brewing Co. showcases the city of Allen. The local brewery’s craft beers feature names that celebrate the state’s heritage—such as 28th State Stout and Blue Lacy Brown Ale (a tip of the hat to the official state dog).
And every crafted can proudly boasts about being brewed in “Allen, Texas, US of A.”
“Yes, I’m in the alcohol business. But to me, this brewery is so much more than that,” explains Nine-Band President and CEO Keith Ashley. “It’s more than just selling beer. I want people to come together to enjoy our beers, but also to know our story. I want them to know about Allen, Texas. It’s a big town with a family feel, and it’s a great fit for us.”
Texas through and through
Although Keith was born in New York, he moved to Texas as a child and his Lone Star pride is evident. The brewery is named after the state’s unofficial mascot, the nine-banded Armadillo. Award-winning brewmaster, Ian Larsen, is a born and bred Texan.
Their flagship brew is the Nine-Band Pale Ale, a very ‘drinkable’ offering they consider a gateway into craft beers, especially for people who might typically stick to traditional brands like Coors and Budweiser.
“We’re not your typical craft beer brewery,” Keith says. “We’re more of a transitional craft house. So, we’re not going to have a bunch of double-backflip IPAs and all that kind of stuff. I’m trying to attract traditional beer drinkers and in order to do that; you can’t make a ‘backflip’ hoppy beer. That’s not going to bring people to the craft side.”
Instead, he adds, when you look at Nine-Band’s lighter-style beers, they have the look of traditional mainstream beers. “But when people taste them they say, ‘Wow this tastes better than those others.’ And that gets them over to the ‘dark side’ to try new craft beers. And whether it’s ours, or somebody else’s, at least they’re giving the craft beer industry a try.”
Locally, Nine-Band beers can be found at many restaurants including Two Rows, Top Golf, Sauced, Twisted Root and P.F. Chang’s, as well as local Kroger and Albertson’s grocery stores, and Sam’s Club warehouse stores. The brand is distributed throughout Texas by Ben E. Keith and is currently being rolled out into other states.
Commitment to public service
Giving back is a huge priority at Nine-Band. The business supports a variety of causes including Allen and Loveyjoy schools, Kidd’s Kids, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County and law enforcement support groups. One of their most popular beers, The Badge Honey Blonde, was created to honor anyone who serves the public, from police/ fire/EMS to water and sanitation. “It’s about paying tribute to the whole spectrum,” Keith explains.
Keith’s career before the brewery is firmly rooted in public service—first in the military and later as a paramedic and policeman. Until 2014, when Nine-Band was founded, he worked 16 years as a nurse on emergency medical helicopters. He jokes that he accidently got into the beer business, after a friend asked him to invest in a nearby local brewery.
“I learned the business as we went and just got bit by that beer bug,” he explains. “I saw a chance to build a family business that could allow me to give back to my community.”
A family-friendly environment
Keith lives in Lucas with his wife of more than 20 years, Brandi, and their children, Kade and Kyler, all of who are active in the business. “Family is very important to me and Nine-Band is about family,” he says. “I want people to know that there’s more to this than just beer. It’s made from my heart. It’s who we are. And this is an environment that can bring families together.”
In 2015, Nine-Band’s taproom and patio opened to the public. With eight big-screen TVs inside and five more outside, it’s a great place to watch sports with friends, family and even your favorite pet, Keith says. They don’t serve food, but you’re welcome to bring your own or have something delivered. On Saturdays, they offer tours of their 5,400 sq. ft. brew house, so people can see how the products are made.
“Nine-Band started as a dream of mine, and I feel fortunate that it’s taken off,” Keith says. “But in order for me to be successful, I’ve needed the support of the people of Allen. That’s what drives me. That’s what makes me more energized.”
What do you do when you outgrow an airplane hanger? If you’re Billings Productions and you make giant animatronic dinosaurs and bugs, you move to an even bigger warehouse space in Allen, Texas.
Behind the company’s unassuming entrance lies a 73,000-sq.-foot workshop and more than 40 talented researchers, engineers, sculptors, welders and artists who bring prehistoric creatures and insects to life. From their smallest dinosaur, the Compsognathus, to the 43-foot long Tyrannosaurus Rex, Billings Productions’ dinosaurs are built to attract attention.
The business of dinosaurs
“Dinosaurs are universal,” says Robby Gilbert, Director of Exhibit Sales. “I would imagine that a kid on every continent in the world, if you said T-Rex, they know exactly what you’re talking about. And we just happen to bring them a life-size one that moves and roars.”
The business, which is better known as “The Dinosaur Company,” is a world leader in the design and development of animatronic exhibits for zoos, museums and theme parks in the United States and abroad. They’re the only U.S. company that specializes in animatronics that can withstand the outdoor elements typically found at zoos.
Locally, their creations can be seen at the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney and at the Houston Zoo.
Larry and Sandra Billings founded the company in 2003 with a modest collection of 60 dinosaurs. They outgrew their warehouse space in McKinney (an old airplane hanger) and moved to Allen in 2012. Today, their collection features more than 300 dinosaurs and 52 giant bugs, including 17 full-size adult T-Rexes and a moving 24’x24’ Mexican Red-Knee Tarantula.
Remember what was said about needing space?
Luckily, most of the dinosaurs are located in zoos and theme parks around the world. They rotate out for exhibits that typically run from three months to one year and then returning home to Allen for maintenance.
In 2013, Billings added a second division known as “The Giant Bug Company.” This collection offers an alternative that’s just as fun and educational and dinosaurs, with larger-than-life animatronic bugs made of steel, fiberglass and skin material.
“While dinosaurs are a great history lesson in evolution and the development of creatures and extinction, it’s really modern animals like these insects that are the key to keeping earth alive on a microscopic level,” Robby says. “That demand is why we developed this additional curriculum.”
Spreading a message of conservation
Each dinosaur and insect has an electronic brain to produce sound and create realistic movements via a pneumatic system. But the company’s goal isn’t just to impress. Instead, they hope to encourage conservation through education and entertainment.
“Our mission-goal is to spread the message that’s already out there: conservation,” Robby explains. “It just so happens that dinosaurs are probably one of the most recognizable—if not the most recognizable—animal that’s ever gone extinct. They plant the idea that not only could other things go extinct, they are going that way. There are species today going extinct that you would never know about if it weren’t for conservation and education.”
Learning about dinosaurs also allows people a greater understanding of history and their huge spectrum of time.
“It’s almost mind-boggling to think about, but dinosaurs were around for 200 million years,” Robby says. “And these prehistoric animals didn’t all live together at the same time. So there’s a massive time frame with multiple extinction events. Being able to take these stories to people all over the world is an unbelievable experience.”
Technology is constantly evolving, he adds, allowing for greater realism in animatronics. The company also works closely with paleontologists and researchers to create creatures that look, move and sound as accurate as possible.
“Not only are kids these days exposed to so much, they’re exposed to it instantly,” Robby says. “Anything we want is available on-demand, at your fingertips. Especially in the zoo world, it’s important that we grab people’s attention and keep it.”