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Sault's IT roster strengthened.

While Northern Ontario mayors were collectively plotting in mid-September on how to shift more development from southern Ontario to the North, a Toron-to-area information technology firm was doing just that.

WorkGroup Designs Inc., a Concord, Ont.-based management consulting firm, announced in August it was setting up its research and development division in Sault Ste. Marie, the home-town of company president Lori Rain-one.

Supported by a $350,000-repayable contribution from FedNor, plus $100,000 from IRAP (Industrial Research Assistance Program) to continue developing some specialty software, the company's arrival is being heralded as a major building block for the city's knowledge-based economy.

"This company has a wide open future," says research and development director Gary Spinks, the company's first local hire, who came aboard July 21. "We're coming up with three known products and a lot of desire in expanding those products and finding new ones."

The Sault office will be primarily working on further development of an existing line of their specialized management software products, which include Juggler Staff Scheduling, Suit-CASE and QMATS (Quality Management and Tracking).

Their flagship product is Juggler Staff Scheduler, a Windows-based staff scheduling tool used predominately by blood banks across North America to organize blood drives.

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"We're thinking it has potential beyond blood banking," says Spinks, "to any organization with full- and part-time shift work and many different parametres. It's a powerful tool to help do completely automated and fast scheduling."

SuitCASE, a case management software tool, is used mainly in social service and managed health care organizations in Canada, but the company is focussed on the larger North American market.

QMATS, Quality Management and Tracking, is a quality assurance monitoring tool addressing ISO standards.

Spinks, a former IT instructor at Algoma University College, whose back-ground includes health administration and information systems for the U.S. military, first learned about Work-Group Designs through connections with the city's Innovation Centre, where he served as a board member.

This past spring, Rainone delivered a presentation at the centre, noting the concern that if they were to relocate in the city to take advantage of FedNor and IRAP funding, would there be enough high-tech personnel to make it worth their while.

Spinks came away impressed and he ended up being recruited by Rainone.

With three product developers already on the payroll, the company expects to quickly staff up to 10 to 12.

They were expecting to release the latest version of Juggler 2.02 in mid-September and by late October have prepared the third version in time for a trade show in Baltimore.

It has been an eventful year for the company, which announced in July it had cracked the $3-million revenue mark with net earnings of $112,566, compared to a $181,467-loss the year before.

Revenue had jumped about 82 per cent from the previous year, the highest-performance in the 10-year history of the company.

Their client base includes five Ontario government ministries, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the American Red Cross, the City of Thunder Bay, Royal LePage, Bank of Montreal, the Canadian Blood Service and a number of U.S. blood bank centres stretching from Maine to Los Angeles.

www.workgroupdesigns.co

By IAN ROSS

Northern Ontario Business
COPYRIGHT 2004 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Special Report: Sault Ste. Marie
Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
Words:538
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