Fayetteville Company Keeps Engineers in Arkansas

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 12:00 am  

A growing research and development company in Fayetteville is providing a place for the state's electrical engineers to thrive.

The story of Arkansas Power Electronics International Inc., which is a finalist for the Arkansas Business of the Year award that will be handed out Tuesday evening in Little Rock, began with electrical engineer Kraig Olejniczak (pronounced oh-leh-KNEE-check). In the 1990s, he was an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas, but he had always wanted to try his hand at business.

"In high school, I competed in the [Future Business Leaders of America]," he said. "I competed nationally in my senior year. I was always interested in business."

Then, John White, UA's chancellor at the, time approached Olejniczak with an idea.

"He was really big on economic development for the state of Arkansas," Olejniczak said. "At that time, he thought it would be a good idea for the faculty if we had a business incubator."

Using the university's incubator as a springboard, Olejniczak kicked off the consulting firm - then called K.J. Olejniczak & Associates - that would eventually become APEI. He started with 100 SF of office space.

"It wasn't really that long before we actually had a project," he said, adding that his first client was Ducommun LaBarge Technologies in Huntsville.

However, Olejniczak quickly encountered a roadblock. Valparaiso University of Valparaiso, Ind., his alma mater, offered him a job as dean of its college of engineering. Olejniczak was stuck. To take the dean job, which he wanted, Olejniczak would need to abandon his business, which he also wanted.

Luck, however, was on his side.

One of Olejniczak's former students, Alex Lostetter, showed interest in heading up APEI.

"He was one of the best theoretical and hands-on students I've ever had," Olejniczak said. "And I think I have a pretty good eye for talent. It was a perfect situation for him to step in and take over the business."

In August 2002, Olejniczak left Fayetteville for Valparaiso. Since then, Lostetter has been captain of the ship.

 

 

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