Ballantyne Strong's new headquarters location drives home just how much the business has changed.
The firm, which primarily makes, sells and services digital cinema equipment, sold its Omaha manufacturing facility in a small industrial park at Interstate 680 and Highway 75 and in November completed a move to a leased space in the First National Business Park, the upscale office park across West Dodge Road from Boys Town.
Ballantyne continues to house its distribution, packaging and lighting manufacturing operations out of its old home at 4350 McKinley, subletting space from the building's new owner, a manufacturer of specialty tires and wheels.
But its business headquarters and its expanded, high-tech Network Operations Center now make a better impression on visitors from the company's newly built-out space at 13710 FNB Parkway. The corporate headquarters takes up the full fourth floor of the building; the NOC is in a portion of the first floor.
“Ballantyne Strong is really in a transformation right now,” said Mary Carstens, senior vice president and chief financial officer.
The firm known historically for making movie projector equipment is moving at fast-forward to a future in digital cinema service, screen production and equipment distribution. And with its new Network Operations Center — 40 percent bigger than the last to provide room to grow — Ballantyne is expanding further beyond cinema.
From the Omaha center, the firm can remotely monitor and provide technical and engineering support for movie theaters as well as “adjacent” markets such as the flat-panel advertising and menu boards seen in restaurants, banks and hotels, said Chris Stark, senior vice president and chief operating officer.
“We actually built a new NOC that's capable of handling not only cinema business, but business from any type of digital device that can be tapped into,” Stark said.
From the center Ballantyne can address technical questions, provide software upgrades and handle machine malfunctions. About 40 percent of client issues can be solved remotely. When they can't, a technician can be dispatched from Omaha or elsewhere: “We have technicians stationed throughout the U.S.,” Stark said.
The old headquarters location, 165,000 square feet, was originally used for analog projector manufacturing.
“That market went away,” Stark said. “We just didn't need all that space.”
And it was primarily a manufacturing space, Carstens said. “Ballantyne has moved to do a much more technological business. We wanted to really show and be able to grow the service side of the business.”
Ballantyne now has 225 employees worldwide, about 13 percent fewer than two years ago when Gary Cavey replaced retiring longtime CEO John Wilmers.
That includes approximately 50 in the First National Business Park offices, 20 in the McKinley Street plant, and 50 in a cinema-screen production facility in Quebec. The company also has four facilities in Asia, in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
While the global firm could have located its headquarters and expanded NOC elsewhere, Ballantyne officials wanted to stay in Omaha, Stark said.
He said the city offers a supply of well-qualified technical, sales and engineering staff and is well-located for distribution. “It's easy to ship it in and ship it out.”
Plus, he said, most board members are local, and “Our customers have always known us to be in Omaha.”
Gutting and rebuilding its offices from the studs out gave Ballantyne the chance to think about energy savings from the beginning. The firm, which also illuminates buildings, including the new One World Trade Center, with colorful designs, installed energy-efficient LED lights in its own office, Stark said. Its lights are motion-controlled and adjust automatically depending on the amount of daylight available.
“A lot of the things we provide our customers, we've tried to put also into our facilities.”
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Room to grow
This is the sixth in a series of stories about companies in the Omaha metro area that aren't deterred by uncertainty over the fiscal cliff and are building, expanding or renovating headquarters.