A common mistake made by the public in the aftermath of many dot-com companies going bust is thinking of cutting-edge technology as only computers, software and Internet ventures. Therefore its future is sketchy outside of Silicon Valley.

Local companies hope their progressive mechanical and industrial arts will position Madison County in the forefront of technology and alternative energy for automobiles and beyond.

Hundreds of talented mechanical, industrial, electrical and chemical engineers work thousands of hours daily within the community seeking innovative ways to power everything from an automobile headlight to the plant that actually makes the automobile.

"Anderson can be a center for alternative power. Not just for cars, but for many other types of vehicles that travel 100 miles or less during the day," said Bill Hardacre, president of Electric Vehicle International. "We must be progressive for our community's economic survival. Or we will become just a bedroom community for other cities."

EVI is in the midst of luring an unnamed investor who, according to Hardacre, will enable the company to hire 25 more employees to help fill two major orders. EVI has a $5.4 million contract to build 170 electrical delivery vans for a Mexican pharmaceutical company and a $2.4 million contract for electric-powered trams for Honolulu International Airport.

The knight in shining armor could not have come at a better time for EVI. The company was facing an August deadline to find new investments or face the calling of a $1 million loan secured by the city with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Power on the ground

Inside iPower Technologies are 40 mechanical and electrical engineers designing and building electrically efficient, on-site power generation units. The company, formed by Delco Remy International in 2001, has produced 20 units powering sites in the Detroit area.

Distributed generation, on-site generation of electric power, can be used extensively in hospitals, small factories, schools, offices, shopping complexes, restaurants and housing developments. The company is also developing a much broader portfolio.

In November, iPower will start selling a combined heat and power (CHP) system. The on-site CHP can produce enough electricity to power a medium-sized hotel. The unit can also produce hot water and cooling for air conditioning or refrigeration. According to engineer Tim Chambers, the unit can be 80 percent more efficient in converting natural gas to electricity and heat and save a facility 30 percent on utility bills. iPower is in the process of filling 24 orders for the CHP.

iPower's innovations recently garnered international attention in the guise of a major investor. Hydro-Quebec CapiTech, Canada's largest utility company, invested $2.5 million into iPower.

"We are impressed with the technologies that iPower has incorporated into our full-time electrical power generation units," said Jean-Rene Marcoux, CEO and president of Hydro-Quebec CapiTech. "We are confident that we can contribute to the long-term success of iPower, not only with funding, but also with the synergy of our shared technologies and people."

Jack Combes, president of iPower, said the Canadian investor has the potential to motivate other international interest.

iPower was formed by a $14 million joint venture between DRI, AeroVironment Inc. in Monrovia, Calif., and DTE in Detroit. Production of the power units began in January.

"Our community has to get into a technological mindset," said Combes. "We need to look at what assets are in the area of automotive technology and portable energy and develop a theme."

Combes wants the theme of alternative power to be an identifying trademark for a new, cutting edge industry in the community and within the consciousness of both Hoosiers and the Midwest.

"We have the capabilities," said Combes, who said the Anderson, Muncie and Indianapolis areas are filled with talented and educated individuals who can apply their talents to this goal.

Pushing companies ahead

The larger companies refuse to remain stagnate, either. Delco Remy America, with 875 employees in Madison County and 6,800 workers globally, is continuously developing new ways of supplying its clients with leading electrical equipment for automobiles.

At the forefront of this movement is the creation of an integrated starter alternator that is gearing up for production. This will allow cars to be more fuel efficient -- and cleaner environmentally -- and will help the American market adopt more hybrid cars.

"As we see the technology trends moving toward service (away from production-line manufacturing) we are needing more people with a different set of skills," said Thomas Snyder, president and CEO of Delco Remy International, DRA's parent company.

Snyder believes Madison County is in an opportune situation and location to provide both skills and services to both clients and prospective new companies.

In addition to an established work force, Snyder said the community can avoid a brain drain by utilizing partnerships with higher education for both training and research.

DRA officials agreed they would like to see updated infrastructure; mass transportation between Anderson, Indianapolis and Muncie; and a larger airport to accommodate more business travel.

Research in energy efficiency, not alternative sources, is one component that drive Guide Corp. engineers. More than 75 percent of the 400 employees at Guide's corporate complex in Pendleton are engineers and scientists developing automotive lighting systems. The company positioned itself as a global leader in this field.

In 2001, the company introduced the High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlight. The HID lights produce a beam 250 percent brighter than standard incandescent light, increasing driving safely along with many other benefits.

"We've got a very talented group of engineers," said Jeffrey Mickel, executive vice president of engineering and development for Guide. "They are very progressive and we are always encouraging them to develop new ideas.

"We have 3,000 years of experience among our engineers. That experience gives us a tremendous advantage."