Mention the District of Rock Island and one thinks of music festivals, art galleries, restaurants, and brewpubs. But quietly tucked away among the city's nightlife and arts is eServ (, a new company that is part of a wave of businesses that have discovered the benefits of blending emerging technologies with traditional business practices.

eServ (the "e" stands for "engineering"), for all practical purposes, is really two companies folded into one. The heart and soul of its business is engineering consulting, support services, and product design. The other component of eServ's business is technology integration for corporate clients. As a certified Sun Microsystems and Cisco Systems partner, eServ has gained a reputation for configuring back-end Internet solutions for businesses as diverse as Internet Revealed and The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Los Angeles native Tim Baldwin, one of eServ's founders and its current COO, sees the two competencies as an advantage for the company's clients. "Our challenge now is trying to figure out how to mesh the two of those together," he said. "Even in our brochures you see there are two pieces, engineering and technology. And when you read them they're very different. They do tie together on the backside because of the technology. One of the things we enjoy is that I have to have some very sophisticated people on [the engineering] side of my business to sell those services to our clients. And it takes pretty sophisticated and expensive people to maintain the systems that we use on [the technology] side of our business. Rather than to have to hire that done, we have people who can do that ourselves. We share the resources in that respect."

eServ's office entrance is right on Arts Alley in The District - in the former Kitchen Table space - and is the first "dot com"-looking business in the downtown, with its modern décor and exposed brick office space. eServ was founded in November last year by Baldwin, James Richmond, Scott Miller, Pat Sherman, Len Hoogerwerf, Lavern Weinschenk, and Mark Erickson. Many of these founding members cut their teeth in the industry at City Blue Technologies (CBT), some for more than 10 years. According to Baldwin, his partners helped CBT boost the server side of business from nothing to $10 million.

The partners left CBT over a difference of opinion, according to Baldwin. "We believe that a good technology product is based on the diversity of services provided, not being reliant on manufacturing alone."

The District location is not eServ's only office - they opened a similar size office in Peoria last year and opened a sales and tech support office in Des Moines this week. The incentives that helped lure eServ to Rock Island included a $50,000 low-interest loan from the city, designed to creat jobs. eServ has hired a full-time recruiter and plans to hire as many as 10 employees per month.

Baldwin claims the success of his company stems from the highly talented and dedicated group of professionals he has thus far been able to recruit to eServ. "We have a young group of people," he said. "Very aggressive, very creative, highly technical problem-solvers. A lot of people don't put technical and creative together."

Baldwin stresses that eServ is not engineering company in the traditional sense. "We are not an engineering company. To call yourself an engineering company you have to be licensed by the State of Illinois professional-licensing bureau. A certain percentage of the owners of the company have to be professional engineers - which we are not. We don't claim to be, nor do we take any professional responsibility for the products that we are involved in because the ultimate decision for those products ... is up to that company's engineers. We are virtually more on the design side and the styling side. They are the guys who put the stamp of approval that we used the right materials, we tested it for stress, and those types of things."

One real-world example for their engineering solutions involved a small company in Waterloo that supplies engines to John Deere. They needed a cost-efficient rack for transportation of these engines. "As simple as that sounds," Baldwin said, "you have to engineer that rack to be able to support that engine, hold it tightly, and not let is shift during transport. What these guys used to do before they hooked up with us is take an engine, set it up in their shop, and have guys out there bending metal and making it fit this engine. It would take days. What we do is take the entire engine model, recreated in a CAD [computer-aided design] environment, electronically design a rack that supports that engine, extrapolate that to fill up a trailer, calculate clearances, and make sure we calculate the weight and stress ratios on the trailers. In a matter of hours we produce a set of drawings that our client can go out and manufacture his racks from. Our clients get a greater, more sophisticated presence in their customers' eyes."

The Quad Cities market for technology consulting has proven to be a unique one for eServ. "Our people go in and analyze a client's technical problem," Baldwin explained. "The most difficult challenge for us right now is the diversity we have to have to do that in this market. For example, if we were in Chicago I could choose a problem and I could solve that problem for hundreds of customers. Here there are not that many companies that have that same problem. So I have to have multiple problem-solvers to solve multiple companies' problems. We have to become a jack-of-all-trades out here. And in fact, that's what's kept competition out of this market."

One thing that makes our market unique, from a technology-services business perspective, is our infrastructure, or lack thereof. "Our infrastructure here, for communications for example, is horrible. Telco is a perfect example. This is Ameritech on the Illinois side of the river, but they don't build the infrastructure they do in other places. For example, in Peoria we have 10 megabit Ethernet connection wireless to a wireless provider who has an office right next to the Ameritech switch, and it costs us $500 a month for a 10 megabit dedicated wireless connection. Here it would cost me in the neighborhood of $1,500 per month to wire a T-1 connection from here to Internet Express. It's ridiculous! Why am I paying three times as much as I'm paying in Peoria? Beyond that, getting big, big pipes, like 10-megabit transmission speeds - you can't even get it here. Clearly, communications infrastructure is one of the pitfalls when you're talking about growing an Internet economy in the Quad Cities."

Connectivity aside, engineering consulting is still a very competitive field. Baldwin has worked to differentiate himself from his competitors. "What we're working on right now is developing proprietary practices because there are other companies that do what we do," he said. "We can do it better and cheaper a lot of the times because of the other things that we do, like pairing up with the technology side of our business. But no question - if you compared our engineering-support business with somebody else's engineering-support business, there is not a lot of difference. They're hiring the same young, talented people that we are. They're buying the same computer systems and using the same software. And they've got the same types of relationships with their customers where they're located ... . What we're trying to do is develop systems that are trademarked processes. We go in and we sell that concept to the client, and we're on the verge of releasing a couple of those right now. We feel that we can go anywhere in the country, and that's what our goal is right now. We're very comfortable with what we're doing and the direction we're headed."

Todd McGreevy contributed to this story.

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