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A Severe Weather Pure Play

A group of Australian investors bought the leader in world weather forecasting — an Alabama company with a breakout product fueled by the extremes of climate change.

Mark Parow (above), one of the four Australians who bought Enterprise Electronics from The Weather Channel, says the company has a new sense of mission with both climate change and ownership change.

Mark Parow (above), one of the four Australians who bought Enterprise Electronics from The Weather Channel, says the company has a new sense of mission with both climate change and ownership change.

Photos by Cherokee Spivey

New ownership means new directions for Enterprise Electronics, the quiet Coffee County high-tech firm that’s helped protect the world’s population from weather disasters for more than 40 years.

A group of Australians last summer bought the Doppler radar pioneer from The Weather Channel, and they expect to inject new energy into the company comparable to the quantum leap climate change zapped into the weather.

“Governments invest in technology to detect severe weather,” says Mark Parow, one of the new owners, and he believes that a new product, the lightweight, portable Ranger, “could double our business in three years.”

Building upon defense contracts out of Fort Rucker, in 1981, 10 years after it opened its doors, Enterprise Electronics introduced the world’s first commercial Doppler weather radar. The company created software, tested and manufactured radar in a 53,000-square-foot facility in Enterprise. As incidents of severe weather have increased over the years, the company has expanded to meet the needs of the citizens of the entire world.

The next generation product, the Ranger, is a system that is less costly and more portable so they can bring timely warnings to even more of the world.

Enterprise Electronics was purchased in July 2012 by four Australians — Collin Cooks, Mark Parow, Andrew Israel and Andrew Tindall. Parow, Israel and Tindall were involved in similar businesses in Australia, while Cooks identified the opportunity to purchase Enterprise Electronics from The Weather Channel. According to Israel, the objective is for all partners to have a good time running the business.

According to Parow, after 40 years of ownership by The Weather Channel, Enterprise Electronics was lacking in leadership and vision. The partners say they have addressed some of the problems and provided a new strategy. Israel says that the plans for development are both tangible and achievable in a relatively short amount of time. The feedback given by their 80 employees has been encouraging, they say. “They can see that the future is very bright,” says Parow.

Before purchasing Enterprise Electronics with their partners, Parow and Israel were most recently involved in the acquisition and sale of air conditioners for rail cars. That business developed a turnaround product that outperformed its predecessors, and Parow and Israel hope to repeat the experience with Enterprise Electronics’ Ranger system.

A lightweight, portable radar, the Ranger will cost about one-quarter as much as traditional radars. Small enough to fit in the back of a truck, the Ranger should be especially useful for the military, airports and oil rigs. It was developed in conjunction with Oklahoma University, the epicenter of meteorological research.

The first two Rangers will be installed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as part of a federally funded program. Of the more than 950 radars installed by Enterprise Electronics in the United States, the government owns 166. Enterprise Electronics hopes to fill some of the gaps in coverage with the smaller and more affordable Ranger.

Throughout its existence, the mission of Enterprise Electronics has been protecting people and assets, and the business leads the world in many different wavelength technologies. Talk of climate change has created opportunities for Enterprise Electronics, and the market continues to grow as radars are needed to predict and protect from severe weather.

Meteorologists on the nightly news are not the only people who make use of Doppler. Governments acquire most of the radars manufactured by Enterprise Electronics. More than 90 countries around the world own the company’s products.

Today, every radar developed at Enterprise Electronics uses Doppler technology, and the newest models use Dual Polarity radar. While Doppler detects movement, Dual Polarity radar, which sends radar energy horizontally and vertically, detects shape as well, providing a more definitive image that makes it easier to pinpoint relatively isolated phenomena, such as tornadoes. Software that interprets the information enables people to make decisions about how to best protect themselves.

The growth of Enterprise Electronics projected by its new owners will mean more jobs for the Enterprise area. Parow says he expects employment to increase by about 20 percent.

Growth is pegged to the company’s new lightweight, portable radar, the Ranger, which will cost about one quarter as much as traditional radars.

Part of the expansion includes a brand refreshinging for the company. One of the goals is for the market to understand that they are the technology leader for the world. The company’s largest competitor is based in Germany, but even with that competition, Enterprise Electronics recently received a contract to install 19 new radars in Germany.

“We want to resurrect a long established and technologically advanced business,” says Chris Goode, vice president of sales and marketing. “We want to tackle new customer markets with the Ranger.”

Enterprise Electronics is well supported by the community. Parow and Israel both agree that the mayor has been helpful with developing local businesses.

“We add a great level of diversity on a week-to-week basis,” Israel says. “On a week-to-week basis, we have customers from as far away as Indonesia and Tanzania.”

Parow is committed to keeping the business headquartered in Enterprise, and the company has even purchased a house in Enterprise for the Australians to use while they are in town.

“We feel very welcome here,” says Parow. “We are here for the long term, and we love this place.”

Laura Stakelum is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Dothan.

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