When AT&T divested its Regional Bell Operating Companies in 1984, engineer and entrepreneur Mark Smith saw an opportunity to supply network equipment to the seven divested companies and also the thousands of independent telephone companies across the United States. He opened Adtran in 1985 to serve this need.
Over the decades since, Adtran has become one of North Alabama’s largest employers and exporters. The company provides global communications solutions and works to develop innovative technologies used to create products and services that make communications simpler and more affordable for people everywhere, according to Eddie Midgett, director of international operations and global logistics. “We accomplish this with about 70 percent of our global workforce based in Alabama, ” he says.
After quick growth during its first few years, Adtran moved into its 170, 000-square-foot facility in Cummings Research Park in 1992, becoming one of the largest industrial facilities in Madison County. There, the company had the space needed to expand its operations aggressively. Two additional facility expansions followed in response to continued growth. The company now occupies an 80-acre campus with facilities totaling approximately 1.1 million square feet, including 400, 000 square feet dedicated to manufacturing and distribution.
At its Huntsville facility, Adtran annually manufactures about a half-million units, including leading edge prototype manufacturing, rapid new product ramping, volume production of printed circuit board assemblies and large scale system integration and configuration.
“This flexibility enhances our design and development activities and ultimately leads to better products and another competitive advantage for Adtran, ” Midgett says.
During 2017, Adtran’s Alabama factory produced 1, 200 unique products, covering about 75 percent of the company’s entire portfolio.
“The breadth of products produced across Adtran’s automated production lines is a testament to the robust processes that have been established, ” Midgett says. “We produce high tech electronic assemblies that range in size from a pack of gum to a large refrigerator. Efficient execution of early design prototyping integrated with volume production is difficult to master and requires a collaborative effort with a strong focus on lean manufacturing principles, as well as continuous improvement across the company.”
Expanding internationally is part of Adtran’s mission, to “bring the world together by enhancing communities and connecting lives to advance human progress through technology regardless of language or country, ” Midgett says. “A commitment to international growth and connecting new markets is part of our ongoing mission.”
While Adtran has been doing business internationally for decades, over the past 11 years the company has increased global sales significantly. From 2006 to 2017, Adtran’s international business grew from 7 percent to 24 percent, representing almost $160 million of the company’s total $666 million revenue. Last year, Adtran sold products and services to customers in 68 countries.
“A large amount of this international growth was fueled by exports from our Alabama factory, ” Midgett says. “We have also developed hundreds of new products over this period, mostly designed, developed and introduced into production at our Alabama headquarters facility.”
As Adtran has expanded its international business, the company has benefited from the programs and expertise available from the North Alabama International Trade Association.
“Selling products and services to 68 different countries comes with trade challenges, ” Midgett says. “As a global company, Adtran must comply with a host of standards and specifications including TL9000, ISO 27001 and ISO 14001, among others. NAITA has been helpful in providing resources and information relative to international trade. Educational events, along with resources and interaction with other Alabama companies, make NAITA a natural fit for Adtran’s support.”
Adtran has proven its reputation as a global leader with a number of awards, including the NAITA Global Trade Award, the Governor’s Trade Excellence Award, the Alabama Large Manufacturer of the Year and numerous product awards
Text by Nancy Mann Jackson // Photos by Dennis Keim