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Vernier's enviable work environment grows

Beaverton's first Enterprise Zone applicant takes on $2.8 million project


by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - David Vernier, chief executive officer of Vernier Software, stands on property that will be part of the Beaverton company's expansion.It doesn’t take a designation in a business magazine to determine Vernier Software & Technology is a pretty cool place to work.

Spending about five minutes in the building at 13979 S.W. Millkan Way provides plenty telltale signs: Lots of natural light. A spotless, well-stocked break room. Tropical fish tanks. Yoga classes. An indoor basketball court. And on this particular Thursday, many of the friendly, casually dressed employees took the afternoon off for a mandatory “movie day.”

That’s the culture David and Christine Vernier hoped to create when they founded their company in 1981.

“There’s something about being a teacher, where you learn to deal with kids and people,” said David Vernier, 65, the company’s chief executive officer and a former teacher. “We believe in a certain culture. You better not be crabby or rude with people, or you’re just not going to make it here.”

Judging by the company’s $2.8 million plans to expand the building and add to its 100 employees this year, the humanistic, counter-corporate Vernier philosophy is clearly paying off.

Expansion plans call for a two-story addition of about 15,482 square feet on the west and south ends of the one-story office structure, which Tektronix built in the 1960s. The project encompasses a new two-story glass entry, an outdoor plaza and pathways, a new training room, offices, workout facility, conference rooms, lunchroom, stockroom, and a partially enclosed landscaped rooftop gathering area. by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - David Vernier, chief executive officer of Vernier Software, goes over renderings of his company's future building expansion.

Specializing in software, digital sensors and classroom materials related to math, science and engineering, Vernier Software was the first to sign on to the city of Beaverton’s Enterprise Zone program. The state-administered program provides three to five years of property tax abatement for companies that invest at least $1 million and expand their payroll by at least 5 percent.

“We heard about the Enterprise Zone and said, ‘Gee, we ought to consider that,’” David Vernier said. “We’re a potentially growing company. We’re holding our own and are optimistic (the economy) is going to get better.”

Helmed by Terry Novak of Novak Architecture, the expansion project is set to begin in March and be completed by summer.

“We’re going to try to really fast-track this thing,” Vernier said.

The project’s features include a circular indoor slide from the second floor to the first, a water feature that will be incorporated into a water-quality swale to handle roof drainage, exposed heavy-timber construction and work from local artists displayed throughout the space. Expansion plans are in line with the building’s existing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“Our team has created a very innovative and fun environment that is a direct reflection of Vernier’s company culture,” Novak said.

That culture was documented by Oregon Business magazine’s ranking Vernier Software No. 16 in its “100 Best Green Companies to Work For in Oregon” list in 2012.

Hiring plans, Vernier conceded, are “partly because we will have room and partly because it’s part of the deal. The fact that we will have more space tends to encourage a little bit more hiring. We’ll be modest, with about three new people by this time next year.”

Cautious optimism is familiar territory for Vernier, who bailed out of the teaching profession when Oregon’s economy hit the doldrums at the dawn of the 1980s.

“There was a recession in the country as a whole, and Oregon was really bad,” he recalled. “I was teaching, (Christine) was working like crazy. Then the summer comes, and I couldn’t get a summer job. I literally couldn’t get a job at McDonald’s. Our kids got those jobs.”

The couple decided they’d had enough of the struggle. Taking out a modest ad in a newsletter catering to physics teachers, the Verniers pooled their experience to start their own venture on the wholesale side of the education industry.

“We said hell with it. We’ll spend the summer working on programs with our kids,” David said. “The worst case is we’ll have better stuff for our own students, and the best case is we’ll have some to sell.”

Fortunately for them, the latter scenario came to pass. With David heading up research and development and Christine running the business operations, Vernier Software grew steadily — along with the economy and the digital technology boom of the 1990s. In 2000, the company moved its operations from space on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway near the Tillicum nightclub to its current building, which housed Nike’s rollerblade division after Tektronix moved out.

After three-plus decades in business, the Verniers have seen enough ups and downs in the economy and their admittedly niche-based industry to ride out the latest storm with a modicum of confidence.

“We’re betting on two things: The economy getting better, and us having desirable products,” David said. “We’re pretty proud of what we have now.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Dave Vernier of Vernier Software talks about his company's beginnings and future expansion.




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