Innovation isn't limited to single industries and two long-standing companies continue to stretch the boundaries in their industries.
Article by Suzanne Adams | Graphics created by Alondra Flores
Innovation is driving two Eugene companies, Seneca Family of Companies and Lane Transit District, to stretch the boundaries of what many people consider old school industries. Seneca Sawmill, known for its high-quality lumber, is using technology to improve its product and reduce waste. LTD is using technology to get people where they want to go faster, easier and in a way that best suits their way of life in an on-demand world.
Innovation has always been a part of Seneca Family of Companies, according to Casey Roscoe, Seneca’s vice president of Public Relations.
“Grandpa was an innovator from the get-go,” Roscoe said. “Our whole success is due to innovation.”
When her grandfather, Aaron Jones, opened his first sawmill in the 1950s, he was troubled by the amount of sawdust the mill generated. He saw the dust as wasted product, so he engineered a new saw blade that could cut thinner slices of wood, allowing Seneca to maximize its lumber.
Jones’ habit of encouraging and supporting innovation by his employees led to the creation of more than 25 industry patents owned by Seneca.
The company continues to use the latest technology in its mills, said Todd Payne, Seneca’s CEO. It uses drones to check its log inventory at its mills and to check the growth of trees on its three tree farms. It also uses Wi-Fi, tablets and remote cameras to monitor production, product quality, and track inventory.
The company continues to invest in ways to reduce waste and increase the sustainability of its mills, Payne said. Seneca’s $65 million cogeneration plant uses sawdust and other debris to power its boilers. Heat from the boilers run the mill’s dry kilns and turbines to create renewable energy for Eugene Water & Electric Board.
Across town, Lane Transit District is combining technology and partnerships with local organizations to make it easier for people to get around faster.
“LTD isn’t just about providing bus service to Eugene, Springfield and the surrounding areas,” said LTD General Manager Aurora Jackson. “It’s about providing the best modes of transportation to people when and where they need it and making it easily accessible.”
For example, LTD is installing a new electronic fare system that will allow passengers to wave a pre-paid smart pass or an app on their smartphone at an electronic fare box to pay for their ride.
The new system makes it easier and faster for regular riders to pay their fare and board the bus, Jackson said. And it makes it easier for people don’t regularly use the bus. New riders can simply download an app, figure out where they’re going, pay for their ticket and board the bus.
Partnerships, such as ones with South Lane Wheels and the city of Eugene, are also an important part of innovation for LTD, Jackson said.
For example, LTD partnered with South Lane Wheels to create an on-demand ride pilot program for rural riders in Cottage Grove, Jackson said. The program, Connector, allows riders to use an app, their home computer or call to schedule a ride anywhere in town on any weekday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The program has been so successful that LTD is considering partnering with the city of Eugene and Lane Council of Governments to start a similar pilot program for downtown Eugene, she said.
Jackson and Payne said their organizations are keeping an eye on new technology that could be useful for their businesses.
LTD is looking for ways to make it easier for riders to connect to options such as Lyft, Uber, PeaceHealth’s bike sharing and Zipcar’s car sharing programs into the services it provides for LTD customers. These programs can provide riders with a way to cover that “last mile” to and from the bus stop to their home.
“We don’t see them as a competitor, but as a complement to what we can offer,” Jackson said. “It’s about allowing people to make choices about their lives and their mobility.”
Seneca is keeping an eye on new wood products that are being developed, such mass timber and nanotechnology. This technology can be used to create biodegradable packaging and multi-story wood buildings that are as strong as today’s concrete and steel buildings, but are lighter and have a smaller foundation.
“We’re taking a purposeful pause to consider what’s on the horizon and what we want to participate in,” Roscoe said.
Innovation isn’t restricted to tech start-ups, and Eugene’s long-standing industries continue to prove that they can innovate by focusing on finding solutions to issues and addressing them with new ideas to improve the operations of their businesses.
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