list/dy/biz phone vendors/14"/mike1st/mark2nd

DOUGLAS YOUNG

Staff Reporter

The emerging information superhighway is providing a business bonanza for many of the firms on this year's List of the 25 biggest business telephone system vendors in L.A. County.

"Going forward, the bulk of our business will come from (these) cutting-edge technologies," said Kelley Brown, spokeswoman for Lucent Technologies, the largest business telephone system vendor in L.A. County this year, with 650 employees countywide.

Lucent both develops and sells its phone systems to business clients, unlike most other companies on the List, which do not develop the phone systems they sell.

Lucent's L.A. work force grew by more than 7 percent last year, as the company brought in new people to staff its expanding data and multimedia divisions.

While Lucent grew, the same was not true of ACI Communications, which dropped from No. 3 last year to No. 4 on this year's List.

A company reorganization, coupled with declining business from defense and aerospace customers, led to layoffs for nearly half of ACI's local work force over the last year. During that time, ACI saw its number of service contracts in L.A. County plummet from 3,600 to the current 200.

"We've had some financial reverses, and we're coming back out of it," said ACI Manager James Hailfinger. He pointed out that a general manager and a financial manager left ACI toward the end of last year, and now the company's two owners are more actively involved in running the company.

He also noted that business volume can vary widely from year to year for companies such as ACI, which have been heavily dependent on contracts with defense and aerospace firms.

"A lot of our accounts were government-driven, so now we're moving into different markets," he said.

The number of local service contracts also dropped sharply at L.A. Tel Corp., the No. 2 firm. But spokeswoman Kim O'Neil attributed the decrease to the fact that the company last year included clients whose systems were under warranty, in addition to standard service contracts. Those clients under warranty were excluded this year.

She noted that business has been strong for many telephone system vendors in L.A. County, thanks largely to the rebounding Southern California economy.

"Over the last five to six years, there was a lot of question about the economy. People kept their systems for longer than they might have," she said, pointing out that many businesses held on to their old analog telephone systems, even after digital technology started becoming widespread and affordable.

Now, many businesses are upgrading their systems to take advantage of new technology, she added.

Rounding out the top five telephone system vendors on this year's List are ICF Communication Systems Inc. at No. 3, up from No. 6 last year, and WilTel, which retained its position at No. 5. Dropping off the List was last year's No. 2-ranked Nortel Communications Systems, which failed to submit information this year.

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