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Oregonian, The (Portland, OR) - August 15, 1996
Author: JACKIE SCOTT - of the Oregonian Staff


Freeing phone lines
A Gresham-based company brings new technology to the Siberians

Thousands of Siberians are now chatting with each other and the rest of the world quickly and conveniently, thanks to Teleco, a tiny telephone company in the Clear Creek Business Park.

With 12 to 15 employees -- including three globe-trotting officers -- Teleco has sold 13 modern telephone systems in Siberia and opened an international office. The business was incorporated in 1989 by Ray Alvarez, a veteran of the Northern Telecom Inc. Teleco can serve clients around the globe with a small staff because most trouble-shooting and maintenance can be done via computer. The company ventured overseas in 1992, after sales director Dennis G. Hardy had talked to other businesses interested in the former Soviet Union.

Frank Gage, vice president of Teleco, was eager to see the changes that followed the end of the Cold War and jumped at a chance to visit Khabarovsk, a city of 800,000 people in eastern Siberia.

At his hotel, Gage noticed only two-thirds of the rooms were equipped with telephones -- all rotary style. Hotel guests could make local calls, but Gage said it was inconvenient and expensive to call outside the city. When Gage saw business people making appointments to place international calls and paying $14 per minute, he was amazed. Enter Anatoly Stolbikov, the hotel manager. Gage made a suggestion:``Look, why don't you put a phone in every room?'' he told the Siberian.

Siberians have only recently learned the value of phones, Gage said. Many business people still use personal messengers to communicate with each other. For most of the century, phones were thought of as instruments of government surveillance. He persuaded Anatoly Stolbikov to buy a new phone system for his hotel but only after taking him on a demonstration visit to Alaska. ``We brought him over and showed him the Anchorage Hilton,'' Gage said.``He had to see the application of the technology.'' The incompatability of new and old phone technology in Siberia will continue to be a major hurdle, he said. Steve Gill, president of Southern Tel International in Memphis, Tenn., said Alvarez and the Teleco staff are some of the top problem solvers in the industry.
`He's known for providing good quality service to customers when other providers have thrown up their hands and walked off,'' said Gill, who has worked on joint projects with Alvarez. To accommodate Siberians' overseas calls, Teleco installed an international gateway switch in Brewster, Wash., last year. The switch receives calls from Siberia via satellite.

Teleco has diverse clients Oregon clients with Teleco phone systems include Franz Bakery, Cascade Steel, Clatsop Community College, George Fox University, John Deere, Linn County, Lower Columbia Community College and Hewlett-Packard. Alvarez said most clients use employ their own telephone technicians, with Teleco serving as the backup problem solver when a system manager or technician has exhausted his or her expertise. Last year, Alvarez who is Hispanic, joined a trade mission to Chile and Argentina. The trip was sponsored by ``Hispanic Business'' magazine and certified by the U.S. State Department.

In Argentina, the market for technology could open up next year when the nation's two telephone systems are deregulated. Alvarez's wife, Marj, trains clients to operate their new phone systems. Her task is an important one, because Teleco's officers say the majority of problems with phones is not the fault of technology but arise Problems when people don't understand how their phone works.

Teleco's business may target foreign markets, but the company is satisfied with its office on Northeast Glisan Street across from Fairview Village. ``We must like it; we all commute,'' said Gage, who is 61 and lives in Hood River. Hardy, 49, lives in Ridgefield, Wash., and Alvarez, 49, in Vancouver, Wash.

``It's a good location,'' Alvarez said. ``We looked at land undeveloped for high technology. At the time, that was all on the west side. But we knew at ome point the land use would switch over to this area.''

Jackie Scott covers business for The Oregonian's MetroEast news bureau in Gresham. She can be reached by phone at 294-5943, by mail at 295 N.E. Second St., Gresham, Ore. 97030, or by email at

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