PENDLETON - The Umatilla-Morrow Education Service District had four data processors eight years ago helping school districts in the two counties.

Today it has a separate division, Intermountain Technology, that employs 53 people who provide computer-related expertise throughout Eastern Oregon.

Intermountain Technology is Pendleton's seventh-largest employer, according to Superintendent George Murdock, and the largest technology provider in Eastern Oregon.

Murdock has headed the district for five years. The technology staff had grown to seven by the time he arrived, according to Michael Lasher, director of information technology, who has worked there eight years.

Lasher said Murdock's arrival coincided with the beginning of the Oregon's crisis in education funding.

"We had three choices," Murdock said. "We could wait for money from Salem, fold our tent completely or simply take matters into our own hands and chart our own destiny."

The ESD chose the latter and Intermountain Technology was born. Its first contract was with the city of Hermiston, where it still provides technical support and networking for the city's computers and telephone system. Eventually, Intermountain Technology hired a full-time person whose time in Hermiston was split between the city and the school district.

"Until about five years ago, most school districts had their own technical coordinators," Murdock said. "We provided that position to the Hermiston School District at no cost. The city's contribution helped out the schools.

"That's been our model since that time," he added. "We make money on providing services to non-K-12 customers and use the 'profit' to provide services for schools."

Those services include computer hardware, software and networking for administrative purposes, telephone systems and student computer labs. Other branches of the ESD continue to provides specialized services to schools, such as those for students with speech, hearing and other physical challenges.

"In our largest two districts - Pendleton and Hermiston - we provide two full-time people to the districts for $25,000 per year," Lasher said. "We have so many people now, and the spectrum of technology is so broad, that we have specialists in every facet of technical support. We can provide a level of support to our customers that they could not hire themselves."

Of the 53 Intermountain Technology employs, 46 work in Umatilla and Morrow counties, including seven in Hermiston. Six work in Vale, where they serve the Malheur ESD, Malheur County, and school districts in Lake County. One employee lives in La Grande and serves school districts in Union and Baker counties.

The staff includes four who specialize in developing and maintaining Web sites. Some specialize in telecommunications and telephone systems. Others work on help desks and specialize in networking.

"We're a very diversified organization, Lasher said, noting that it no longer provides data processing.

Murdock said Intermountain Technology does not solicit contracts with private business, commercial or industrial clients.

"There are a number of commercial operations that would like to get our services," he said.

Lasher added that Intermountain Technology has grown without damaging small businesses in Pendleton that offer similar services. In fact, he said, he buys a lot of supplies locally.

Since it signed its first contract with the city of Hermiston five years ago, Intermountain Technology's revenue has grown exponentially. He expects "sales" of $4 million this year.

Always looking ahead and keeping up with the latest technology, Lasher said his operation is working with some school districts on "voice-over Internet protocol," which is a method of transmitting voice over the Internet. Employees also are helping clients to develop video conferencing, he said.

Murdock has a broader view of the future.

"Our ESD has the capacity to be the help desk or call center for Oregon government," he said. "We already do that for most of northeastern Oregon. With modern technology, we could do that for state government and keep those jobs in our area, not send them overseas."

He was referring to an April 2 story in the Eugene Register-Guard, which reported that a call center in India was fielding Oregonians' questions about their welfare and food stamp benefits.

"This isn't a small deal," Murdock said. "The outsourcing of services for the Oregon Trail Card means that 212,000 Oregon families are being served by the overseas call center. We keep hearing from Salem that it all about jobs, but state government itself seems to lack a commitment to keeping jobs in Oregon."

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Dean Brickey can be reached at 1-800-522-0255 (ext. 1-248) or by e-mail at dbrickey@eastoregonian.com.

Intermountain Technology Clients

Education

• Milton-Freewater, Athena, Helix, Pendleton, Hermiston, Echo, Stanfield, Umatilla, Ione, La Grande, Baker, Huntington, Annex, Vale, Harper, Jordan Valley, Arock, Adrian, Nyssa, Lakeview, Paisley, North Lake, Harris Junior Academy, Pasco, Kiona-Benton, Headstart, Ukiah, Oregon Trail Library, Umatilla County Headstart.

Cities

• Umatilla, Pendleton, Hermiston, Milton-Freewater, Vale.

Counties

• Morrow County, Malheur County

Other

• Eastern Oregon Telecom, Starlight Imaging, Umatilla Electric Cooperative, Benton County PUD.

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