Yet a Georgia Tech professor and Lawrenceville High graduate started a little company on U.S. Highway 29 near Lawrenceville, almost against their will. The company was Micromeritics, recognized today as Gwinnett#s first high-tech company.
Founded by Dr. Clyde Orr, now 84 and chairman of the privately-held firm, and Warren Hendrix, 70, president, Hendrix was Dr. Orr#s graduate assistant at Georgia Tech and a North Georgia College graduate. Way back when, the pair got the idea for building a machine to measure surface areas of small particles when Dr. Orr was leading a research laboratory for the Georgia Tech Engineering Experiment Station.
Dr. Orr remembers that kaolin firms, in particular, were sending measurement requests to the Experiment Station. #They wanted to know the surface area of powders, and we got a dozen or so a week. We would run the surface area for them, and in effect, found that we had a market for a device to measure it.#
Yet the technique was slow, and came out of a cumbersome machine. The first instrument they built measured about six feet high and wide, and was made out of glass. #The trouble with it was that it was big. We couldn#t move it. And janitors at night cleaning would nick it with their brooms and mops, and we would have to repair it. We wanted to build one out of metal,# said Dr. Orr.
However, Hendrix says that they never intended to get into manufacturing. #If we could have licensed a manufacturer, we would never have gotten into production ourselves. For the first year we thought we might sell a half dozen. But we sold nearly 30 that year. We simplified and speeded the process and gave firms information about their products that they needed to know," said Hendrix
That first unit cost about $10,000. Today#s device, only the size of a computer, has versions that sell up to $50,000.
Soon the pair, plus two full-time and a few part-time workers, found themselves setting up operations in the new home for Hendrix and his family on Highway 29, near what is today Sugarloaf Parkway. #We were in the basement, then the garage and finally upstairs, and pretty soon, my wife wanted her house back,# Hendrix says. That#s when the firm moved to its present site near Norcross.
Over the years, Hendrix has handled the business side, #and I work on development and technology,# Dr. Orr says. #I can#t sell a thing,# Dr. Orr said.
The firm has branched into making other measuring devices, developing automation, and reducing the cost of the technology.
Micromeritics has also developed markets internationally and led the way to doing business even in China. #Today China is one of our better markets,# Hendrix says. The firm today has sales of approximately $30 million a year, with offices also in five European countries plus Asia.
Who uses the firm?
* Chain saw manufacturers determining the particle size of pumice debris for air filters.
* Chocolate manufacturers enhancing taste.
* Space shuttle tile producers correcting a buckling problem.
* Paper manufacturers improving sheen and gloss.
* Drug manufacturers improving absorption of laxatives.
Hendrix and Dr. Orr never realized that they were developing what would become the first and premier high-technology company. They started what has become an important and highly sophisticated industry and company. The firm, which employs 240 people, marked its 40th anniversary this past June at a ceremony at Flint Hill in Norcross. Dr. Orr and Hendrix received proclamations from mayor and former county commission chairman Lillian Web.
Hats off to Micromeritics, Gwinnett#s first hi