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Taking a universal product—a city lightpole—and turning it into next generation “Smart IoT Lighting,” which can be equipped with everything from facial mapping cameras to snow depth sensors that alert crews to plow, is the latest innovation coming out of North Branford-based PennGlobe, led by president and CEO Marcia LaFemina, a Madison resident since the age of 16. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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PennGlobe President and CEO Marcia LaFemina’s claim to fame since 1995 is Penn Globe, a cutting edge business poised to be the industry leader in next generation “Smart IoT Lighting.”
The company, tucked away in North Branford on Shaw Road, recently trademarked Smart IoT (Internet of Things) Lighting to capture the essence of the latest innovation coming out of this family owned business, now solidly on the radar of global, smart city growth. Marcia and her sister Michelle Stonier are second generation co-owners of PennGlobe with their parents, Ronald and Dorothy Lahner.
Marcia’s family moved to Madison when she was in high school and she still lives here.
“I have lived in Madison since I was 16, so the town has always been an important part of my life,” she says. “I graduated from Daniel Hand and ultimately raised a family here. We have been fortunate to have the friendships of so many amazing people here over the years.”
Recently PennGlobe has been receiving some national attention not only for its innovations, but also for being a model business. Honored guests coming to the North Branford site have included U.S. Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Rosa DeLauro, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, Governor Dannel P. Malloy, and State Senator Ted Kennedy, Jr. Last May, DeLauro returned with U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. Perez wanted to visit PennGlobe due to the small (19-person) Connecticut company’s exemplary efforts to retain employees with paid leave and other benefits.
“People are following what we’re doing because they know it’s different, because we’re women in business, because we’re hiring the underemployed and the unemployed, because we still pay everyone’s medical benefits,” says Marcia.
Established in 1877, the company, which started out manufacturing gas lights (the name stands for Pennsylvania Globe Gaslight Co.) has leapt into the future with implementations applied to existing, industry-standard outdoor light poles (or as new installations), in any city, college campus, or other complex. In recent years, PennGlobe was among the first municipal lighting suppliers supporting sustainable energy lighting for cities and college campuses (including UConn) through retrofits and LEEDS-certified new installations. It’s patented PennSMART lighting sensors can be programmed to dim during peak consumption or instantly flood light, in a range of colors and strobes, when triggered by one of numerous sensors.
Just last month, Marcia successfully patented a new universal housing, PennSMART Teres, which can incorporate an array of technology in its customized “pod.” The pod can be seated on top of the collar (point where the light fixture is attached) of any existing, industry-standard outdoor light pole.
“For every light pole in the country, the only thing that’s standard—that we make or another manufacturer makes—is that [collar]. So our task was to come up with a retrofit kit where you can take a light fixture off, drop that pod on, put the light fixture back on, and you have cameras, speakers, Wi-Fi, sensors, whatever application the city or complex wants to include,” Marcia explains.
The simplicity of the pod, which can be drilled with holes or fit with tech objects based on the requirements of each client, is deceiving. Pointing to one hole at the base of a prototype pod, Marcia says, “that’s for a 190-degree camera. So that goes up on the pole, 12 feet up in the air, and they’re getting more than the tops of people’s heads; they’re getting that facial recognition that you can’t get from cameras that are on top of a building. It’s really discreet. All the nuts and bolts go in the pod.”
As the company’s promotional literature describes it, “when your light pole can scare away an intruder, capture video of a perpetrator, measure snowfall to trigger the arrival of snowplows, and support a range of other useful functions, you can assume it came from PennSMART.”
Right now, PennSMART is at the forefront of a global Smart Cities initiative for sustainability, safety, and the future of urban infrastructures. In fact, the company will be working with the winning city of the first federal Smart Cities $50 million grant challenge. Just over three weeks ago, seven cities (none in Connecticut) were named finalists among 77 that entered the challenge.
With dynamic surveillance cameras and full sensor arrays, PennSMART’s next-generation Smart IoT lighting is LED-driven (new installation or retrofit) and can provide streetscapes and pedestrian walkways with unobstructed security surveillance—and that’s just one application. Other innovations which can be added in with Smart IoT Lighting include 360-degree motion sensor video cameras that trigger programmable “bright lights,” real-time police/security notification, gunshot sensor notifications, facial mapping, glass-break sensors, precipitation sensors with alerts for work crews, emergency blue lights, data collection (license plate readers, traffic flow, traffic pattern, etc.), and digital signage (think Amber Alerts, evacuation notices, community events).
Marcia compares the application possibilities to the mushrooming apps available on today’s smart phones. That’s why she says being the company that has created Smart IoT Lighting is so exciting.
“In the world of lighting, there are behemoths, like Philips and Acuity, [and] they define what we’re all going to think, what we’re going to do, what the next big thing is. That’s what big companies do,” says Marcia. “So we realized early last year that they were defining ‘smart lighting’ as light controls, which is great, but we realized what we were doing is not smart lighting; we were in the Internet of things. So we’re trademarking Smart IoT Lighting, and hopefully, in that market, we will be number one or at least the go-to people for that stuff.”
In the meantime, Marcia has become a bit of a go-to person, herself. In January, DeLauro invited Marcia to be her guest at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.
“On a personal level, to have gotten that phone call from Rosa on a Friday, saying, ‘What are you doing Tuesday night?’...It was really cool,” says Marcia. “Every time you think that nothing else could happen...the governor wants to come here, then Ted Kennedy, Jr., then Chris Murphy, and then when Rosa called this past year and said would I mind if she brought the Secretary of Labor up from D.C., what do you say? But it’s also really important for me to share everything that’s happened didn’t happen because of me. This is an amazing group of people. I think it’s a good company to work for.”
Marcia says PennGlobe has quietly gone about its business in North Branford near the East Haven town line for more than 20 years, although, “I think they knew we were here when Nancy Pelosi came, and we shut down Route 80!”
Pelosi arrived in 2013 to laud PennGlobe as part of the national “When Women Succeed” initiative. All of the recent attention is welcome, but Marcia and her team are being careful about keeping their culture intact as they pivot on what could be exponential growth.
“Thing are moving fast,” she acknowledges. “Fortunately, I love this stuff, and what we found out is the best way we might be helpful is not actually to sell the whole thing, but to work with systems integrators. So that’s us building lighting and platforms to their specifications—we drill those holes where they need them drilled, and they add in” the technology. She says adding different divisions to the company may also be the way of the future, in order to “keep it together and small, but at the same time, get big. My goal is to be in this market of IoT lighting.”
From her daily work in an office she converted from an old break room on the factory floor, the Madison resident stays connected to the folks she’s been working with for many years.
“We don’t have turnover—our foreman has been here 18 years. We’re still a small company, and I don’t want to lose that.”
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