February 21, 2012
Tech company to open in downtown Pottstown

When Scott Bentley jumped out of that plane 13,000 feet over the North Pole all those years ago, it’s doubtful he imagined he and the underwater robot business he founded shortly thereafter would land in the middle of downtown Pottstown.

But that’s exactly what happened.

With the borough Zoning Hearing Board’s immediate and unanimous approval last week of the variance request by Bentley’s company, VideoRay, the business is one step closer to occupying much of the 32,000 square feet of the former Levitz building at 212 High St.

The company makes underwater “remotely operated vehicles,” or ROVs, more than 1,950 of which are used by the military, port security and for commercial uses to get a look at underwater conditions that might be too dangerous for a human diver.

In fact, one YouTube video of a VideoRay ROV at work in a Florida waterway shows it being investigated with a disquieting interest by a curious alligator.

Customers include the U.S. Customs Service, the Taiwan Coast Guard, Port of Long Beach, the U.S. Navy, Three Gorges Dam in China and the University of Zagreb in Croatia.

The underwater maneuverable camera platforms are used for a wide range of missions including recovery of drowning victims, inspection of tank interiors, discovery of contraband hidden underwater and scientific research of everything from habitat documentation to reef exploration, said Brian Luzzi, the company’s marketing manager.

The ROVs have been used to get footage of catfish for Animal Planet and great white sharks for National Geographic, he said.

Currently, VideoRay is located in a “19th century Mennonite barn” in East Pikeland which “is a bucolic environment, there’s swans, there’s goats, there’s horses” and many other things that make coming to work every day a pastoral experience.

But pretty and practical are not synonyms.

What the current location does not have, Bentley said, is paved parking, “city water, city sewer, high speed internet, restaurants” and the other things that make coming to work about more than just the work.

Under the current plan, Bentley’s business, which has between 30 and 40 employees, will move from the 5,000 square feet of the barn, into 32,000 square feet of the flexible office and light manufacturing space in Pottstown sometime this fall.

Although the components for VideoRay’s ROVs are made at other locations — Korea, California, Scotland — they are often assembled and need minor alterations on site, said Bentley.

The manufacturing aspect of the business is what required the zoning variance, which was granted with the full support of Pottstown Borough Council.

“VideoRay is exactly the type of employer we want to attract to our community,” Borough Council President Stephen Toroney said in a press release issued by Pottstown Area Industrial Development Inc., or PAID, which helped to facilitate the decision to move to Pottstown.

“A global high tech company with tremendous growth potential will soon call Pottstown home and we are pleased to welcome them,” he said.

Bamford said PAID has been working with the company since November “to help determine the feasibility of relocating and alleviating concerns about moving from a rural to urban environment.”

“The idea of locating in a classic, walkable downtown was appealing to the company,” Bamford said.

“Proximity to restaurants, the TriCounty Performing Arts Center, public transportation and convenient parking factored into their decision, as did plans for expansion of the Schuylkill River Trail and the continued growth of Montgomery County Community College in the borough,” Bamford said.

“The prospect of additional technology companies moving to Pottstown is tremendously exciting and we are here to be of assistance,” he said. “I’ve been on board 90 days and to have the opportunity to work with a quality company like VideoRay is outstanding,” Bamford added.

Contrary to what you may have heard about working with the borough, Bentley said he enjoyed the experience.

“We were recruited by PAID and I have found Borough Manager Jason Bobst and the borough staff to be very helpful in addressing some zoning and parking issues,” Bentley said in the release. “It has been great working with PAID and the borough.”

None of which answers the questions readers must now have about parachuting into the North Pole. (And you thought I forgot.)

In 1999, Bentley was anxious to get out of the family business — Exton-based Bentley Systems — “and do something different.”

“I had a friend who was teaching me how to fly and he asked me to be best man at his wedding,” Bentley said, noting he agreed before his friend told him the wedding would occur at the North Pole and they would be parachuting in, along with taking a hot air balloon ride and scuba diving under the ice.

“Well I had already agreed to be his best man, I couldn’t say no,” Bentley said. “I have jumped out of perfectly good airplanes three times, twice in New Jersey and once at the North Pole.”

Once it came to the scuba diving portion of the adventure, the group found themselves using a large and bulky Russian-made ROV.

“This was in the early days of ROVs and my friend said to me ‘you should go into business making ROVs and when we got back, I looked into it and decided he was right,” said Bentley, who in addition to being founder and president of the company, is also its majority owner.

Now the company “is the largest volume ROV company by volume in the world, not by revenues,” said Bentley.

That is probably because unlike the larger, bulkier models which require full crews and often, their own support vessels, VideoRay’s models sticker for as little as $6,000 and can be operated by just one person.

These and other aspects of the business will be explored and expanded in the future once the move takes place, currently planned for sometime this fall.

“I am very excited about what we can do when we relocate to downtown Pottstown,” Bentley said.

Story Credit: The Mercury - Evan Brandt
ebrandt@pottsmerc.com
Photo by Kevin Hoffman


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