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Kadner: Local firm hopes to land military pact

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Updated: December 9, 2013 10:52AM



Ranked 63rd among the best small companies in America by Forbes in 2012, Landauer Inc., of Glenwood, produces millions of radiation monitoring devices worn by medical, dental, laboratory and nuclear power plant employees throughout the world.

But I had never heard of the company, founded in the basement of a Park Forest home in 1954, until I saw a news release stating that U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd) was going to visit the place.

Kelly stopped by Landauer on Wednesday as part of an economic development tour she’s promoting in her district “to foster business growth, job creation and hear ideas from business owners on what
support they need to be successful.”

Landauer is located a few blocks from the Glenwood School (formerly the Glenwood School for Boys) and has more than 250 full-time employees. It reported $152 million in revenue last year, but its executives brag mostly about its commitment to the community, employees and clients.

Signs around the plant state: “Respect: We treat each other and our customers the way we want to be treated.” “Honesty: We communicate openly and honestly.” “Innovation: We value and encourage every idea.” “Reliability: We always find a way to deliver on our commitments.”

Every employee, I am told, can have their college tuition paid for by Landauer, whether or not the subject or degree is related to their work. The late Robert Landauer Jr., the company’s founder, believed that education made people better employees, and his tradition of supporting education lives on.

Landauer makes all sorts of radiation detection devices in all shapes and sizes. There are buttons that clip on to lapels, credit card-type devices, ID badges, small pins and rings that fit on a finger.

A million of those devices, known as dosimeters, are manufactured per month at the Glenwood plant,which has more than 60,000 square feet of space spread across connected buildings.

The dosimeters eventually are shipped back to Glenwood from all over the world, at a rate of about 1 million a month, so their radiation levels can be checked in a special “darkroom” where radiation infiltrating from the outside world is kept to a minimum.

Using computer equipment, an executive informs me, workers in Glenwood can determine if an excessive radiation dose came when an employee was directly exposed or if he happened to lay his badge down temporarily in a “hot spot.”

Bill Saxelby, president and chief executive of Landauer, escorted Kelly and an entourage that included the Glenwood mayor through his plant and made a pitch for help.

Landauer has developed a new product, a Radwatch Dosimeter, that looks like a wristwatch and has been tested under field conditions by the U.S. Army, Saxelby told Kelly. While other types of dosimeters must be sent to Landauer for radiation level testing, the company also has created a special gizmo, the RadLight Reader, in a portable case for tactical radiation monitoring in the field.

“It can be used by soldiers who are deployed in dirty combat fields, places where radiation has leaked out, or it can tell them if they’re exposed to leaks from weapons systems of our own,” Saxelby told me.

He said thousands of military personnel were sent to Japan in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis and exposed to radiation.

The Army not only has tested the RadWatch Dosimeter and RadLight Reader, Saxelby said, but it wants to buy them — it’s ready to sign a five-year, $100 million contract with Landauer.

“The problem is that the money isn’t in the military budget,” he said, and he’s requesting Kelly to get an appropriation so the military can buy his product.

And once the Army signs on, Saxelby is confident he can get the Navy as a client as well.

Kelly seemed sympathetic, but I asked her what the chances were of getting such a military appropriation with the country facing budget problems and conservative Republicans in Congress clamoring for budget cuts.

“While we have areas of disagreement between the (political) parties, one area that has support from both sides of the aisle is the military,” Kelly said. “There’s a sort of ‘Kumbaya’ between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to the military budget and supporting our soldiers.”

So she thinks there’s a good chance she can help the Army get the money it needs to buy Landauer’s products.

Of course, congressmen in just about every district in the country will all be battling for businesses in their districts to land government deals.

But to drive the point home to Kelly, Al Barrionuevo, director of plan operations at Landauer, tells her about 80 percent of his employees live in her district. Kelly smiles and later mentions the figure during a meeting between her and about 100 Landauer employees in a conference room.

“I must say I never think about radiation until I have X-rays in my dentist’s office and see the dental technician run out of the room,” Kelly tells the employees, eliciting knowing laughter.

On a more serious note, the congresswoman tells the workers that the 2nd Congressional District has the highest home foreclosure rate in Illinois, high unemployment and high property tax bills and “it’s fantastic this business is here and decided to stay here.”

As for Landauer, it would like to expand and modernize its plants Glenwood. It has both high-tech and low-tech jobs. There are people operating stamping machines, packaging badges into envelopes for mailing, operating computers and answering phones at a client center.

As for the guy who started it all, I am told he followed his father to work calibrating X-ray machines in the 1930s and figured that gadgets that measure radiation exposure might be both beneficial and profitable.



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