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LumaStream lighting company announces plan to bring manufacturing jobs to St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg-based lighting company LumaStream has its products engineered and developed in Canada and manufactured in Taiwan.

Now, CEO Eric Higgs wants to bring all those parts together in St. Petersburg, a move he expects will create 1,000 local jobs over the next five years.

"It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a city to raise a company," Higgs said. "So let's keep the prosperity right here."

Higgs, 46, made the announcement at LumaStream's innovation showcase, "Enlightenment," at the Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday evening in front of a crowd that included area politicians and economic development leaders. He also announced that LumaStream will be partnering with Tampa's Windstar Homes and providing all of its LED lighting.

Higgs is counting on a steep increase in business to create the jobs. If his plan works, he said LumaStream will hire 200 corporate employees and engineers over the next five years with salaries ranging from $50,000 to $150,000.

Higgs will outsource much of the manufacturing to local contractors, a common practice for small, but growing, companies. He estimates those contractors will hire about 500 blue-collar workers. As the company attracts more customers, he expects LumaStream's electrical contractors will have to hire an additional 300 people to install the products.

Higgs said the company will also evaluate building its own manufacturing facility.

"We will start moving things here very, very soon," he said. "While our volumes are fairly modest right now, we expect them to increase dramatically based on where the market is moving."

LumaStream was founded in 2010 and manufactures one-of-a-kind LED lighting technology. It currently has 24 employees at its headquarters at 2887 22nd Ave. N.

The company's handiwork can be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Ovation condominium tower, the Tampa Police Department "Thin Blue Line Memorial," the Chihuly Collection gallery and the Cisco Systems Business Center. LumaStream lights also can be installed in homes.

LumaStream joins a mini-trend of companies bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States from overseas, including corporate heavyweights like Caterpillar, Whirlpool and Ford, and local companies like Ditek Corp., best-known for making surge protectors.

State Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who attended the event Thursday night, said building a "technology cluster" of high-tech industries in Tampa Bay is something economic development leaders have wanted to do for years.

"I think this is incredibly exciting," Brandes said about the jobs. "This is exciting for the city, and exciting for the state. This is exactly what we need to be doing."

Higgs cited multiple reasons for wanting to consolidate LumaStream's operations , among them the ability to better oversee the operations, speed up the prototype stages, communicate better with contractors and streamline shipping.

"It's just a much faster process being located here," Higgs said.

Higgs is a renowned sculptor with a computer science degree from William & Mary and an MBA from Stanford. He got his start with the first high-tech firms in Los Angeles, Tokyo and San Francisco's Multimedia Gulch, but always came back to art. His massive stone sculptures command big spaces in plazas in Arizona and California and in front of museums and high-end businesses in Florida, including St. Petersburg's Beach Drive, Shorecrest Preparatory School and the Morean Arts Center.

Originally turned off by Florida's less than competitive tax incentives, Higgs said Luma- Stream considered consolidating all of its operations in Waterloo, Canada. After discussions with St. Petersburg officials and the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, he changed his mind.

The downtown partnership, an economic development agency, invested $25,000 in Luma- Stream. Higgs said the company is currently in talks with the city about other economic incentives.

"The state of Florida offers far less incentives for businesses to relocate here and grow here," Higgs said. "So as a result the downtown partnership and the city of St. Pete are looking to make up for the lack of incentives on the state level."

Rob Kapusta, chairman of the board of directors for the partnership, said the agency persuaded LumaStream to remain in St. Petersburg after pointing out all of the business opportunities in the area. The University of South Florida, SRI International and Draper Laboratories are just some of the resources the company will have nearby.

"St. Pete is one of the best kept secrets out there," Kapusta said.

Manufacturing reversal

LumaStream joins a mini-trend of companies bringing manufacturing jobs back from overseas. Other local companies who have done it:

Ditek Corp.: Ten years ago, the Largo-based company made many of its products in Asia. Now, most of its manufacturing (mostly surge protectors and industrial, medical and military devices) has shifted back to Florida. Patriotism aside, the decision makes business sense, company owners say.

"If you manufacture something overseas, you can't adapt to changes quickly," Ditek's Bob McIntyre said. "We have complete control over our product and we can adapt overnight. That is a big key in our U.S. manufacturing."

Genicon: CEO Gary Haberland, whose Winter Park company makes laparoscopic surgical equipment, said he brought jobs back from Asia after his product designs were stolen and reproduced (often with poor quality) without penalty by others in China.

Genicon products that were made in China started to develop rust, Haberland found. "Why was stainless steel rusting?" Haberland said at a conference last year. Because it wasn't stainless steel, forcing product recalls. Genicon reversed course and set up manufacturing in the United States. "We're not making Tonka toys," said Haberland.

JS Karaoke: The Largo-based maker of karaoke machines found that size-sensitive shipping costs for big products were becoming prohibitive. CEO Jack Strauser said he would start manufacturing his machines in Florida, instead of China, as the cost difference became negligible.

LumaStream lighting company announces plan to bring manufacturing jobs to St. Petersburg 06/14/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 15, 2012 8:10am]
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