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THOUSAND OAKS : ‘Cluster’ to Focus on the Environment

The new office for Duralee Products isn’t big--just a 10-by-10-foot room with space for a desk and a plant next to the window.

But Duralee’s Phil Lee has big plans for his small office in the new Thousand Oaks Environmental Business Cluster. The cluster is a nonprofit effort to get young, environmentally oriented businesses off the ground, and Duralee, which moved in Tuesday morning, is the cluster’s first tenant.

Using the cluster’s resources, Lee hopes to increase sales of Duralee’s product: a large, portable nursery pot made from recycled plastic.

“This has been my baby for 10 years,” he said, gesturing to the pot, dubbed the Envirobin, holding the plant by the window.

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At the site, he said, he can make contacts with cluster tenants and sponsors, contacts that may help his business grow.

“When you’re in business on your own with just your own resources, it’s just you,” he said. “When you’re in something like this, you’re in it together.”

Several other businesses will soon move into the cluster, occupying offices and cubicles in a Lombard Street building donated by GTE, one of the project’s sponsors.

As Lee settled into his new digs, Steve Wright, a special projects manager with GTE, showed off the cluster’s new video teleconferencing equipment in a nearby room. A color computer screen displayed the image of whoever wandered into the eye of a tiny camera perched atop the monitor.

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The room had been painted blue to provide a better background. Wright even bought wooden letters from a crafts store to spell out “TOEBC” on the far wall so the cluster’s identity would be visible to teleconferees.

The cluster will also provide tenants with Internet access, Wright said.

“The main thing is to let the tenants experiment with and get comfortable with all the things they need to run a business,” he said.

GTE is just one of several companies that have invested money and expertise in the cluster. Carol A. Larson, an area manager with Southern California Edison, said the idea of nurturing new businesses made sense to her utility.

“We’re going to be here--we’re not going to move to Nevada,” she said. “We need to generate the businesses here for us.”

The city of Thousand Oaks is also sponsoring the cluster, even providing cubicle partitions and furniture from the old City Hall. “It’s to foster new business and do it in a way that’s non-polluting,” said Grahame Watts, an environmental program analyst with the public works department.

Duralee, he said, was a perfect example of the kind of business that can use the cluster’s services.

“You’ve got a businessman who’s got a great product and who’s struggling to get off the ground,” he said. The cluster, he said, gives others a way to help.

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