News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters Tech Center takes flight

Driving past Sisters Eagle Airport, it is easy to assume that it is a general aviation airport, meaning smaller planes, private in nature, not commercial. And you‘d be right. But it is much more than that as The Nugget learned when it visited airport co-owner, Benny Benson, to talk about the vision he and his wife share, which is evolving into reality.

Located on the airport grounds are four businesses in addition to the airport. Chief among them is ENERGYneering Solutions, Inc. of which Benson is the CEO. Benson’s wife, Julie, serves as CFO. These four enterprises make up the fledgling Sisters Tech Center that the Bensons see doubling or tripling in tenants within a few years. Others are Environmental Energy Solutions, LLC, known as Evensol. Innoviator, LLC, Outlaw Aviation, and Mountain EDM.

The range of technical know-how and innovation present at the Tech Center is impressive by any standard. ENERGYneering are experts in renewable natural gas, providing solutions for the biogas marketplace, converting harmful environmental emissions into clean energy. They specialize in design, construction and operations for biogas utilization projects. To date those projects collectively produce over 1 million MWh (megawatts/hour) of renewable electricity and over 50 million gallons of renewable fuel per year.

Looking at the airfield, it’s difficult to imagine that inside its walls ENERGYneering is fast becoming a major player in the global waste-derived biogas market that Allied Market Research estimates at $52.9 billion in 2020 and expected to more than double by 2030.

Next door, Evensol is a strategic partner whose CEO is David Wentworth. It is Evensol who develops the projects, which can take years to bring to fruition. Clients are typically large, highly visible — often public companies such as metropolitan landfill operators. In last week’s Nugget we were the first to report a $90 million joint venture between Evensol and Charlotte, NC-based Duke Energy (DUK-NYSE).

Once Evensol clears the regulatory hurdles, obtains all the permitting and financing and myriad other exigencies, ENERGYneering cranks up the final designs, oversees construction, and in most cases takes on the operation of the completed refineries.

Benson doesn’t want to talk as much about ENERGYneering, who employs more than 50 highly skilled workers across multiple states, some with advanced degrees. The firm’s payroll averages $80,000/year per employee making it possible for those at the headquarters location to afford Sisters’ runaway housing costs. He much prefers to talk about the Tech Center, the here and now, and the future.

Sisters Tech Center has about 20,000 square feet under roof and sits on 12 acres adjacent to the runway.

“That’s a lot of expansion room for future, like-minded entrepreneurs,” Benson said. “We are getting more and more execs flying in checking out Sisters and the Tech Center.”

Like Wentworth, who was pulled to Sisters from Connecticut by its natural appeal, Benson sees the likelihood of another six, eight, or 10 disruptive tech innovators relocating to town.

Notwithstanding their business success, both Bensons are motivated primarily by the impact their work has on alleviating contamination of the environment. Benson lights up in talking about stinky methane gas escaping from landfills or mega cattle operations. Gas that will power homes, schools, and businesses while taking a huge bite out of greenhouse gases.

In 2019, methane (CH4) accounted for about 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Human activities emitting methane include leaks from natural gas systems and the raising of livestock. Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but CH4 is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 is 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.

It’s all very technical but Benson and his people have the education and skills to not only understand it but do something about it.

Mountain EDM (Electrical Discharge Machining) is the ‘lowest’ tech of the Center’s occupants but only by degrees. Headed by Dave Crosier, their shop does micro machining, wire EDM from .101 to .004 diameter, CNC machining utilizing end mills and drills as small as 0.2 mm. This is not your grandfather’s machine shop.

“In the ’90s, the Bay Area moved into developing medical devices, working with Cardio Thoracic Systems, Boston Scientific and Sadra Medical just to name a few. This is where I was exposed to micro-machining techniques and practices. I became well accomplished at process development, fixture design and implementation,” Crosier said.

Steve Marsan founded Innoviator in 2007 providing FAA certification and engineering for airline operators. He is joined by six other credentialed tech types working across the U.S., engineers in the most essential meaning of the word with enough degrees, including advanced, to fill a hangar wall. In all, the team is nine in number. Their unique repairs, alterations, and STCs for the aviation industry number in the thousands including for the Department of Defense.

Outlaw Aviation is better known in Sisters Country. Outlaw is partnered with Sisters High School and numerous private donors to provide students access to flight training and other phases of general aviation.

The operation is owned and operated by Sam Monte and Walt Lasecki, both military veteran officers who share a passion for flight.

Passion and excellence are words you hear often at the Sisters Tech Center.

“The integration and innovation found here is not theoretical,” Wentworth said. “I only have to walk out my door and across the parking lot to see what other tech shops, even in major cities, only imagine.”

Looking over his shoulder at the Cascades, he said, “It’s tangible and something I can sell.”

He should know. He was his very own first customer.

 

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