Meridian company helps preserve data from a dying medium

The firm’s scanners turn microfilm and microfiche into easily retrievable digital images.

krodine@idahostatesman.comDecember 9, 2013 

  • Nextscan by the numbers

    Employees: 18, including 14 in the Treasure Valley

    Annual revenues: $5 million

    Years in business: 11

    Address: 690 S. Industry Way, Meridian

    Phone: 514-4000

From family trees to savings bonds, lawsuits to local newspapers, trillions of documents vital to individuals, governments and businesses are stored on microfilm and microfiche.

More compact than paper storage but growing obsolete, film and fiche degrade over time. Records repositories across the globe aim to address that issue — and make documents more readily searchable — by converting the outmoded material into digital files.

That’s where nextScan comes in.

Tucked into a Meridian business park, the 11-year-old company has a growing international client base and a market niche its CEO says is shared by only one other company in the world.

The amount of film and fiche holding vital records is no longer growing, but it’s so vast that nextScan CEO Kurt Breish has no worry that the company he founded will run out of records to convert.

“It’s not billions, but trillions of documents that need to be converted,” Breish said.

NextScan builds scanners that convert yards of microfilm into digital images, and it develops software to enhance those images and make finding what you need quick and easy. Breish said he owns about 96 percent of the company; two early employees, one of whom still works there, hold small amounts of stock.

The company’s scanners range in price from $29,000 to $600,000, including installation and training. About 1,000 nextScan scanners are now installed, and the company produces more than 100 per year at its Meridian headquarters.

LOCAL PILOT PROJECT

For the past year and a half the company has been testing some of that software in a pilot project Breish hopes will help open a huge market for nextScan: county records. Across the 50 states there are more than 3,000 counties.

Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto is happy to provide a base for that pilot project. A couple of years ago, he was looking at the need for digital conversion and figuring he’d have to buy equipment and hire more people — neither of which the county could afford.

“That’s when nextScan showed up,” he said. “Talk about a godsend.”

“They approached us and said, ‘If you’ll work with us and provide us the film and fiche, we’ll do it on site for no charge,” Yamamoto says. “I had to think about that for about a second and a half.”

In the past year and a half, nextScan has digitized 23 rolls of microfilm court records “that would probably be in the neighborhood of 2 million images,” plus a slightly smaller number of films — land records, births, deaths and more — from the Canyon County recorder’s office, he said.

Next, the company will tackle the county’s microfiche, an endeavor Yamamoto estimates will take about six months.

“Some of that film is so old that it’s going bad,” he said. “We’re pretty much doing this in the nick of time.”

Besides making records easier to store, digitizing will provide quick computer access for employees and the public, he said, and nextScan’s software provides indexing and image enhancement, he said.

He recalls one film in which “up to half of the document was totally dark, and they fixed it so you could read it.”

Now, he said, “it’s not great, but it’s readable. And what we had before was worthless.”

WIDE RANGEOF CUSTOMERS

NextScan’s client base includes government agencies across the U.S. and the globe, plus massive companies and organizations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ FamilySearch.com has 29 nextScan machines for genealogical records, Breish said. Google has 17 that are dedicated to digitizing newspapers.

The company has sold scanners to the Library of Congress, the U.S. Bureau of Public Debt (for digitizing savings bonds) and national archives in Australia and Canada, said Director of Product Marketing Doreen Compton, Breish’s wife.

“Forty-one percent of our business is international,” Breish said, noting that nextScan has scanners in 31 countries so far, including Brazil, Singapore, Dubai and Russia.

“Russia is a huge opportunity for us,” he said. The company’s director of international business development forged new relationships there in November as a member of Gov. Butch Otter’s trade mission to that country.

A big chunk of nextScan’s business involves sales to service bureaus, which provide film-scanning services to libraries and other organizations that want to preserve their records but don’t need full-time use of a scanner, Breish said. The company has machines in about 200 service bureaus across the nation and beyond.

One of those bureaus is Boise-based Integra Paperless Business Systems, currently nextScan’s only customer in Idaho.

“He (Breish) has quite a product,” Integra Chief Operating Officer Gary Maxwell said. “It’s very fast. Saves tons of labor.”

With two of nextScan’s machines, Integra converts microfilm, microfiche and aperture cards (machine-readable punch-cards with a small piece of microfilm) for its customers, primarily title companies and government agencies, he said.

Demand is steady, Maxwell said: “They’re both running a full shift a day, pretty much all the time.”

NEXTSCAN PAST AND PRESENT

Breish, who has been designing and developing film scanners for more than 20 years, came up with the ideas for nextScan in the work space at his Garden Valley home after selling his first film-scanning company, Sunrise Imaging, to Printrak, a division of Motorola. He launched nextScan in 2002, after his noncompete clause expired.

NextScan holds numerous patents for its products, including software that produces images in a continuous, searchable digital “ribbon.”

Breish said the company’s lone competitor is Maryland-based The Crowley Co., which is older, larger and has a broad product line beyond film scanners.

He said nextScan’s mission is to “bring down the cost of film conversion” through innovation so the company and its service bureaus can reach new cohorts of customers.

As a nextScan marketing flier aimed at service bureaus puts it, “there are hundreds of millions of dollars in microfilm and fiche conversion projects waiting for the right price point.”

Film conversion cost about a nickel a page in Breish’s Sunrise days, he said, “and now it’s about two-tenths of a cent per page.”

Speed also has greatly improved, he said. The company’s top-of-the-line Eclipse can scan more than 1,000 pages per minute from 16- or 35 millimeter film, he said. Its flexScan, which also handles fiche, can scan 600 pages per minute.

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

The company’s space on Meridian’s Industry Way has room for expansion.

“With some minor staffing additions, we could do an additional $10 million a year,” Breish said. “I see us growing to a $10 million company within two or three years,” which would double the current annual revenues.

“This year we’re going to have well over 30 percent growth,” he said.

Typically, Compton said, nextScan’s two-man production crew is building and testing five or six scanners at a time.

“Almost every one of these are built to spec,” she said.

Breish sees the company focusing more on imaging software in the future and branching out into digitizing paper records as well as film.

Yamamoto, the Canyon County clerk, said he has plenty of paper records that need to be dealt with.

“We are absolutely buried in paper,” he said. “Basically the whole world, as far as government, is in this predicament.”

Kristin Rodine: 377-6447

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