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Smart Tag Plant Expansion Slower Than Expected

Alien Technology reported 44 employees at its Fargo, N.D., plant at the end of last year; over 300 jobs were expected.

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A company that makes so called ''smart tags'' has not yet brought the hundreds of jobs predicted when it announced plans to open a Fargo plant four years ago. Area officials and the company itself say they still are confident in its future.
Alien Technology reported 44 employees at its Fargo plant at the end of last year, area officials say. When its plans for a Fargo plant were announced, more than 300 jobs were envisioned by the end of 2006.
Alien, based in Morgan Hill, Calif., has been involved in a legal battle over patent infringement allegations brought by a rival company. It also went through a major restructuring in the past year, including a new management team, said Ronny Haraldsvik, Alien's vice president for marketing and industry relations.
''As a company we've been pretty quiet for the last year,'' Haraldsvik said. ''I can tell you we are alive and well, and are about to kick off a new campaign.''
The Fargo plant, with almost 48,000 square feet, remains ''integral to the production of our tags and chips,'' Haraldsvik said.
Smart tags are tiny computer chips that use radio signals, called Radio Frequency Identification technology, to replace product bar codes. The tags can be used for monitoring or tracking products from the factory floor to the store shelf.
Industry adoption the technology has been slower than predicted a few years ago, Haraldsvik said.
''Our investors are behind us,'' he said. ''We believe we have the industry behind us, as well.''
Officials in Fargo and the North Dakota State Technology park say they remain confident of Alien's potential.
''Things are looking good. They're the market leader,'' said Robyn vom Saal, a vice president of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., which helped to subsidize low-interest loans for Alien through the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.
Alien has the operating capital to carry it through the next couple of years, vom Saal said. ''They hope to be profitable soon,'' vom Saal said.
Tony Grindberg, executive director of NDSU's Research and Technology Park, said it is not unusual for the adoption of a new technology to take longer than expected.
''We feel very confident this company is going to continue to grow and be a major player,'' Grindberg said. ''Certainly the ability to grow to hundreds of employees exists.''
Alien employs about 200 people, including those at its Fargo plant, but does not divulge specific numbers of employees at its locations, Haraldsvik said.
The latest figure reported to the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., as of the end of last year, was 44, with an average hourly salary of $22.21, vom Saal said.
As of last October, Alien hoped to have 75 employees in Fargo.
The Bank of North Dakota loaned Alien $1.7 million, provided about $1.2 million through a low-interest loan program, and bought a $500,000 equity stake in the company, said Eric Hardmeyer, the bank president. The North Dakota Department of Commerce's North Dakota Development Fund invested $500,000 in an equity stake.
Grindberg said North Dakota's greatest contribution to Alien has been a dedicated work force and technical expertise to refine its manufacturing process.
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