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The Digital Skeptic: It's Cheap Energy, Not Cheap Data, That's Saving Us

BEACON, N.Y. ( TheStreet) -- Jeremy Pyles knows that just as important as gobs of information is gobs of energy.

"Having plentiful natural gas is the game-changer for us," Pyles yelled as we stood in front of a roaring, story-high glass furnace that burns here, day and night, at several thousand degrees Fahrenheit. We were at Niche Modern, the hand-blown, custom lighting-fixture company Pyles founded about 70 miles up the Hudson River from midtown Manhattan.

"I can add furnaces until the cows come home," he said. "Most glass makers can't."

Pyles, who is also the firm's creative director, is the classic New York digital-age success story. About 10 years ago he and his wife, Mary Welch, with minimal experience in the glass business, began peering into the world of hand-blown light fixtures.

"We attended a trade show in 2005 with eight prototypes," Pyles said. "After that, it was a race to keep up with demand."

Pyles just added a second furnace that should grow this 25,000-square-foot plant by another 20,000 square feet. His 20-employee staff melts about 1,000 pounds of glass per week to create one-of-kind showcase lighting fixtures for the likes of Starwood Hotels & Resorts (HOT), specifically the W Hong Kong Hotel.

Revenues run about $5 million per year and grow by an average of about 40% per year, Pyles says.

From what I saw, watching a team of three cajole an elegant, $650 hanging light fixture from a blob of molten glass, it's obvious that the expected information-age elements of a network of unique intellectual property, highly trained craftspeople and global marketing are a factor at Niche Modern.

But equally important is a hidden, much more practical network: The heart and soul of Niche Modern -- its furnaces -- are fueled by a once forgotten high-pressure natural gas line that dates from an age when this town was an industrial hub.

"The people, the computers, the talent, they will all come up to a place like Beacon. It's close enough to the city," he said. "But if it were not for this cheap and plentiful energy that just happened to be here, I could not compete."
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