Aging Parking Meters Get Solar Upgrade

A small solar-powered parking meter company is benefiting from the down economy and aging parking infrastructure. Chad Randall, COO of IPS, talks to Lynn Neary about why the company has been able to double the number of its employees over the last year.

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LYNN NEARY, HOST:

As we talk about jobs in this country, the stream of bad economic news seems almost constant. Unemployment has hovered around nine percent for more than two years and shows little sign of improving. But there are some aberrations and bright spots and our next guest is one of them.

Chad Randall is the chief operating officer of IPS, a small San Diego-based company that manufactures solar powered parking meters that accept credit cards. And he's doing just fine. In fact, in the last year, he has doubled his employees from 30 to 60.

CHAD RANDALL: Strangely enough for us, this challenging economy has been, I think, one of the reasons for our growth. Our customers are primarily city governments. And I think parking is such an important revenue stream for the city, the city really does look at that asset as something that must be upgraded and maintain periodically.

And fortunately for us, the timing in the market is such that the infrastructure of parking is old, the cities are looking to upgrade that, and this combination of product features and the market conditions has really been beneficial for our company. And, you know, since 2008 we've quadrupled in size.

NEARY: Do you think it should be easier for green energy companies to get loan guarantees and subsidies?

RANDALL: Yeah, that's been a very popular topic for sure, recently. I think green energies should be given opportunities to be funded by the federal government or local agencies, in order to promote them. Because only when those technologies become more mainstream, will the costs associated with producing them and manufacturing them drop to a level where they may not need that anymore. They do need that kick start.

NEARY: Well, of course, you said this has been under discussion a lot recently, because of Solyndra, the solar energy company in California that has been getting a lot of scrutiny lately. It received $535 million federal loan guarantee, but was hemorrhaging money and eventually declared bankruptcy.

Do you think that what's going on with Solyndra is going to have a chilling effect on the green energy industry? Will it be bad for your business?

RANDALL: I don't think it will be bad for our business. I think what it definitely will do is it will make the process to get access to money more difficult. I think that you'll find that those lenders are now going to have to dive deeper into the company's operations and finances.

And so, from that point of view, I would say, you know, yes. Potentially for us, the fact that that process can now be, you know, extended and lengthened does delay the time that we can get access to the capital.

NEARY: Well, let me ask you this. We've been hearing so much about how business and small businesses, like your own, are sort of the engines of growth for the economy. And you've managed to thrive in this difficult economic situation 'cause you have a good product. But what else does a small business like yours need in order to create jobs? What would you say it needs? And what is it need from the government, anything?

RANDALL: Well, the most challenging thing when we were much younger, was access to capital. We definitely did look at small business loans, you know, because the government was making this massive pool of funds available to banks, in order to land to small businesses. But having gone through that process and ultimately we decided not to, it was explained to me by several bankers that the small business loans were, in fact, the loan of last resort.

And the reason I think that is, is because the government doesn't just guarantee you the loan. The government will back it in the event that there is a default. And in the event of default, the bank is first going to go after the companies assets; they're going to go after the owner's assets, including your personal home as a way to pay off that loan. And then, if there's any money outstanding, the government will step in and take a piece of that.

So I think if there's any way to provide easier access to that money for small businesses, to me, that would be a homerun.

NEARY: All right. Well, thanks very much for talking with us, Chad.

RANDALL: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

NEARY: Chad Randall is the COO of IPS, a small solar-powered parking meter company.

You're listening to morning edition from NPR News.

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