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Meet the TSAChoice Team: John Israel, Inhouse Bench Engineer

John Israel's career has been a long one and he has seen a lot of changes in his twenty years with TSAChoice.

John is actually one of the original employees from what was Choice Computers, starting to work on 01/24/1995, fresh out of AB Tech.

John is our bench service tech for PC's and Servers.  When viruses, malware and spyware attack, he is the computer Dr. that makes everything right again. He is so awesome that when Asheville had the flood in September 2004, 10 servers were brought in from businesses located along the Swannanoa River, these servers had been under water for days. John was brilliant enough to retrieve all of the information needed off all of the Servers except for 1.

John enjoys hitting Asheville's brewery scene on the weekends and hanging with family and friends. He loves a good sunrise, sunset and photography.

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TSA"Choice" Awards for 2014

At TSAChoice, we jokingly like to say, we are the best looking tech team around. Now physically, I don't know if that is true, but if you believe that true beauty comes from within, you will not find a team that has more heart than TSAChoice.

We currently stand at around 60 employees. In our group as a whole, you will find a team that strives to stay on top of the latest technologies, that is honest, smart, empathetic to our customer's needs and also very involved with their communities and peers.

This week, we had our awards dinner, our management team was in charge of voting for each of the trophies being awarded, with the exception of the teammate of the year award. The difficulty they had in just choosing one person from each division was enormous due to the great talent and positive attitudes they see every day from this group of people.

While we see all the employees at TSAChoice as "winners", we did want to take a moment to share who went home with the trophies.

Rookie of the Year- Adam Laughter

IT Tech of the Year- Matt Smith

Voice Tech of the Year- Bill Keehan

Low Voltage Tech of the Year- Gary Woofy Luyckx

Engineer of the Year- Pat Jones

Administrative Person of the Year- Jennifer Silver

Salesperson of the Year- John Mills
Teammate of the Year 2014

 

The last trophy that was given out was for teammate of the year.  This trophy is very special because it is determined by employee vote.  For 2014, Teammate of the Year went to Patrick Jones.

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Section 179 an Early Gift from Government

The end of another tax year is just a few days away! This year, however, the game has changed thanks to legislation signed by President Obama on December 19, 2014 which includes Section 179 and Bonus Depreciation.
Section 179 an Early Gift from Government

Section 179- before it is too late

What does this do?  It reinstates the $500,000 limit and a 50% Bonus Depreciation for businesses.

Computers, off the shelf computer software, office equipment and more apply.

For more information about Section 179.

Because TSAChoice offers these services, and you, our great customers, utilize them, it is important for you to gain the most you can out of the lowered cost of equipment.  In order to do so, Section179.org offers a calculator so that you may be able to estimate the lowered cost of equipment after tax savings.  We recommend that you reach out to your tax advisor to confirm the benefits this provides your company.

Leasing options are also covered by Section 179. TSAChoice has special leasing options worked out with Great America Leasing including a Bakers Dozen promo that allows payoff of equipment within a 12 month period,  and 6 month promo to allow your company time to decide the best way to pay.

Section 179 has provided a last minute opportunity for your company if you are seeking to upgrade what you already have or are looking to purchase new equipment; do not let this opportunity pass you by!

To receive assistance with any last minute technology needs, please contact your account executive directly, email us, or call 828-254-4464.

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I Code, You Code, We All Code

Mrs. Garner's class at Isaac Dickson Elementary was preparing to participate in the Hour of Code and needed an extra set of hands.

I was invited to assist through the Asheville Women in Technology group.

As intimidating as it is to walk into a classroom full of first graders that have been embracing technology since before they were able to walk, they made me feel quite comfortable.  Fortunately, I arrived early and was able to get treated to a few songs as they were preparing for their holiday show and Mrs. Garner let me assist with preparing some graham crackers that later in the day would be turned into little gingerbread houses, it was a very festive atmosphere.

It wasn't school as I remember it, we didn't even get a computer room until I was in high school and then everything was MS-DOS based. The educational posters, cubbies for work/personal items were still the same, but that was where the resemblances ended.

In place of the chalk board there was a white board.  In place of the film projector or TV that would have been checked-out from the library, there was a permanent mount projector pointed towards a smart board.  The teacher had her own PC (completely unheard of back in the day) that with a few key strokes can bring up a wealth of information to share with her eager students. Students also had an option of using one of four fit balls, instead of their chairs when working at their tables.  The audio visual resources were as good, and even better than many businesses.

Where we would have headed to one designated computer room in school for a project or class,  for their project, Mr. Emry was bringing the technology to the students in the form of mini iPads.  These children were pros, after all, this was the second year of participation in the Hour of Code project for most of them.  

Our Hour of Code Project was Frozen , in which the princesses Elsa and Anna would be guided via code programming to create simple geometric designs, eventually leading to snowflakes.  We worked four exercises together, excitement and clapping would abound as we moved through each challenge.  It was then time to separate into groups of two, where they would work on the additional 16 exercises to complete their Hour of Code project.

It was complicated but through perseverance, and using their reading, math, and engineering skills they were able to solve challenges as they were presented.  It was very exciting to watch this room full of first graders successfully coding.  

The Hour of Code projects are scheduled through next week.  If you are interested in volunteering, just contact Asheville City Schools, or your local school system and request to speak to the volunteer coordinator.  This Hour of Code is free and available to everyone, complete your own project.

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Walking for Charity Challenge

TSAChoice issued a 10,000-step walking challenge to its customers to benefit charity and encourage healthy lifestyle. The challenge was accepted by seven local companies in WNC and upstate SC.
Walking for Charity Challenge

TSAChoice employees taking a walk break

TSAChoice, Inc. announced a healthy competition for its customers: a 10,000-step challenge during the month of December to help promote healthy lifestyles as the new year approaches. And TSAChoice made the deal even sweeter: it will donate $500 to the charity of choice for the company team with the highest average steps per person. If TSAChoice is the winner, then it will donate $500 to the charity of its choice.

The challenge has been accepted with eagerness and zeal by seven local companies: Commerce Services Corporation, Council on Aging, Express Employment Professionals, Henderson County IT Department, and Western Carolina Medical Society in Western North Carolina; and Spartan Felt Company and Piedmont Reproductive Endocrinology Group in Upstate South Carolina.

“We are excited about participating in the 10,000-step challenge,” says Lorinda Collins, Office Manager for Spartan Felt Company in Roebuck, SC. “We have all been talking about getting healthy and this is a great motivational tool for a great cause.”

“A competition like this not only will encourage a healthy lifestyle but also give great support to wonderful non-profits in our community,” says Gary Gallagher, owner of the Western North Carolina Express office. “Express Employment Professionals is walking, running and crawling (if necessary) for Eblen Charities. We’re excited and thankful that TSAChoice approached our Asheville team.”

Lynn Banks, a Sales Engineer with TSAChoice who organized the competition, says that TSAChoice had already challenged its own employees, but thought it would be fun to put their team up against their customers’ teams. “This challenge takes place during December, the season of giving, so we thought the donation to the winner’s charity would be a great motivator for everyone to get out and move, while providing a neat way to interact with our customers’ employees.”

TSAChoice-Walk-Challenge

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Saint Nicholas Project- Drop Off Location

If you live or work around the Enka Candler area and would like to drop off a toy for the Eblen-Kimmel Charities Saint Nicholas Project, please feel free to come by our office.

Eblen-Kimmel Charities works hard every year to make Buncombe County a better place for everyone.

The Saint Nicholas Project has grown from working with 125 children to over 4000 last year, and they are expecting the need to be even greater this year.

If you would like to drop off toys in the Enka-Candler area, we are located at 108 Asheville Commerce Parkway (behind Schwans), our normal hours of operation are Monday - Friday 8AM until 5PM.  If we need to make other arrangements to accommodate, please call Lynn at 828-225-3397.

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Meet the TSAChoice Team: Alecia Knight, Technical Manager Voice Services

Alecia has so many ties to November, she just had to be in our very first Meet the TSAChoice Team feature

Al-Knight.jpg

Not only is she a Scorpio in every sense of the sign, she just celebrated a milestone birthday AND she started her TSAChoice career in November 1997.

Alecia is the person in the office that keeps the TSAChoice Voice Services team on the go, constantly juggling and re-juggling to get all of our customers' communication needs met.  With a friendly can-do attitude, an in-depth knowledge of communication systems and network equipment she is our go to person to make sure service calls and projects are handled effectively.

At home, to create her work-life balance, she drops the technology; she doesn't even have have Internet access!  She enjoys spending time with her guy, hiking, going to the beach, fishing and taking classes at the gym.  Spending quality time with her animals is always a priority: Mr. Ed (a horse of course), Buddy the Golden Retriever and we can't forget her cat Happy.

Alecia has sometimes been called our nucleus, "a central and most important part," of the service department. (Merriam-Webster Web Site)

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Setting Yourself Up for Success to Work from Home, Part 3: Technology

Technology and efficiency go hand in hand. It isn’t necessarily about having the newest technology out there but it is about having what works best for you.

The Technology

There are many items to consider: the desktop, monitors, backups, applications, etc.

When working from home, be sure to check with your company on recommendations for backups and a disaster recovery plan, especially if you save work on your local devices.  If there is no plan in place for catastrophic events, you may consider completing backups of your work and important information to an external hard drive or a cloud backup service.

If you are using a teleworker phone, 911 may be an issue; be sure to confirm with your system administrator if 911 calls can be made from this phone. Mitel offers an optional Line Interface module that allows a home user to connect their home landline. If 911 is dialed, the phone is smart enough to utilize your home line as opposed to attempting to dial out utilizing the company telephone lines.

If you spend a lot of time working at a PC, dual or even triple monitors can be a real time saver. For the purposes of efficacy and efficiency, most of our in-house PCs are dual monitors at TSAChoice. If you decide to make the move to multiple monitor usage, be sure to confirm that your PC will support the configuration.

Unified Communications is also a consideration, if your company phone system supports it.  Depending on the level of security required for your communications, you may consider having a secure Unified Communication solution in place.  An effective Unified Communication system allows you to see the presence of co-workers from just about any device, receive and send faxes from your desktop, create voice/video conferences on the fly, provide secure chat capabilities, and may also be used for your softphone.  Be sure to take time to review and understand all of these features if your company provides this type of application for your PC or smart device.

To get started organizing a home office, download the TSAChoice teleworker check list.

Part 1- Setting Yourself Up for Success to Work from Home- Location

Part 2- Setting Yourself Up for Success to Work from Home- Safety

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Businesses crossing border between mountains, Upstate

TSAChoice is pleased to have been featured in both the Asheville Citizen-Times and The Greenville News this weekend in an article written by business reporter, Dale Neal.

By Dale Neal, dneal@citizen-times.com*

A handful of growing Asheville businesses have gone down the mountain to break into the larger Upstate South Carolina market just an hour away.

ASHEVILLE – Separated by 60 miles of highway and a state line, Asheville and Greenville, South Carolina, still share much in common — a broadcast television market, resurrected downtowns, growing economies.

But only a handful of Asheville businesses have gone down the mountain to break into the larger Upstate South Carolina market, something business leaders are working to change.

The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce hopes to change that and will start by arranging the first joint meeting between the chamber boards of Asheville, Greenville, Greer and Spartanburg, Asheville Chamber President Kit Cramer said. The communities have common ground to boost a regional economy not confined by state borders, she said

“Geography is on our side, and Interstate 26 is the spine that runs through the Upstate and right through Western North Carolina,” Kramer said.

After tentatively aiming for a November meeting, Cramer is looking ahead to a meeting next spring in Tryon — roughly midway between Asheville and Greenville

But some Asheville companies have already seen the benefits of a bigger market just an hour away.

“We’d been talking about it for years before we could put feet on the street down there.” said Jeff Lowdermilk, one of the founders of TSA Choice in Asheville. “We made some early stabs into that market, but we finally took the plunge about two years ago.

Lowdermilk and Bill Arledge launched the company in 1982 as Telephone Systems of Asheville, installing office phones. Technology and times changed, and TSA Choice has grown into a networking company, offering IT management.

Now headed by president Dan Watts, TSA Choice has established a foothold in Greenville, which is more than twice the size of the Asheville market.

The Greenville-Easley-Mauldin metro area covers Greenville, Pickens, Laurens and Anderson counties in the Upstate with a population of nearly 851,000 — South Carolina’s largest metro area. By comparison, the Asheville metro has nearly 425,000 people in the four-county metro area of Buncombe, Henderson, Haywood and Madison counties.

An Asheville native, Watts served in the military and worked for a number of years for Windstream, a leading Upstate IT company, so he’s familiar with both markets.

“I think there is a different business climate in every city you go to, but Greenville and Asheville aren’t that radically different when you compare them to Columbia, South Carolina,” Watts said, pointing to the strong government sector in the South Carolina capital.

Different climates

While the interstate and other highways have leveled the playing field, geography and climate still differentiate the two communities.

At about 966 feet above sea level, Greenville runs hotter in climate, about 10 degrees higher in any season than Asheville at a cooler 2,130 feet.

Some businesspeople say altitude can affect attitude, seeing subtle differences in how deals get done in the two communities.

Tim Emory, of Emory Electric Co., sees Greenville and Asheville with business climates that reflect the characters of their cities, Emory said.

“Greenville feels more conservative both in its politics and business, whereas Asheville is more liberal, more open,” Emory said.

Emory Electric Co. has been contracting electrical work around Asheville since 1978. “We really wanted to grow our business, and we had worked some in the Greenville area. We see Greenville as a much larger market,” Emory said.

The company has taken on contracts in Greenville, and indeed across the Southeast, wiring new grocery stores for Ingles, for example. But after opening a Greenville office in 2006, it still took time to build a local reputation, Emory said.

Emory also made sure to invest enough in the new market. “We have managers, employees, trucks. It’s almost like a second company.”

Watts agreed that scalability is the key to growing into new markets. With 60 employees, TSA Choice was large enough to expand into a second office and hopes to grow further. “It takes time to build your brand, and you have to be wiling to invest and deploy resources there. You can’t send a truck down every day.”

Hiring people who live in a community they serve is critical to any successful business model, said John Kimberly, president of the recently merged Carolina Alliance Bank.

Kimberly formerly headed Forest Commercial Bank, which officially merged with its Spartanburg peer bank last spring. The combined bank with offices in Asheville, Hendersonville, Charlotte, Spartanburg, Anderson and Seneca took the name Carolina Alliance. “We thought the name was more portable, and we hope to grow,” Kimberly said.

The board remains evenly split between officials who live in Asheville and in the Upstate. Kimberly considers the bank homegrown in both communities now.

The banker sees each community with assets and business strengths of its own. The Upstate has more of a manufacturing base with 35,800 factory workers at companies like BMW, Michelin, Caterpillar and Lockheed Martin.

By comparison, the Asheville metro has 19,000 manufacturing workers. In recent years, the area has landed some key businesses like New Belgium Brewing and Linamar and expansions at GE Aviation and Thermo Fisher, among others.

Forging tech ties

Tech entrepreneurs may have an easier time traveling between the two communities.

“That border doesn’t exist for us,” said Phil Yanov, creator of the Tech After Five networking events. Yanov started the events six years ago in Greenville, and they have spread to Asheville as well as Raleigh and Charlotte, Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina, and Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia.

“Every one of the cities has its own character. We see a different audience in each town,” Yanov said. Events typically draw about 100 participants.

Yanov sees plenty of people crossing the state border, showing up the third Tuesday of each month in Asheville and the following evening down in Greenville.

“These are IT people, and networking doesn’t come naturally to them. We have to work to get these guys and gals to come out.”

Watts has attended the networking functions, searching for leads and ways to cement TSA Choice’s brand in Greenville.

Asheville is also looking for ideas to the south, not trying to reinvent every successful model, said Josh Dorfman, the new director of entrepreneurship for Venture Asheville at the Economic Development Coalition of Asheville and Buncombe County.

“We’re not shy about partnering with other cities with good ideas,” Dorfman said. “Greenville has made excellent strides for a city of its size. They have access to research at Clemson Univeristy, and they’ve built up their tech scene.”

Greenville also has plenty of investors with money looking for good returns, Dorfman said. Venture Asheville will work with the Upstate Carolina Angel Network in Greenville to professionally manage a new Asheville Angel network, providing due diligence and vetting potential companies for individual investors.

The Carolina Angel Network has invested about $9 million in start-ups in Upstate South Carolina. Working with Greenville’s expertise, Dorfman hopes Asheville companies can get more access to capital, from local investors and in a sister city to the south.

As more companies see opportunities over the state line, Watts is excited about the potential growth and ideas the communities can share.

“Both towns have done an amazing job with revitalization of their downtowns,” the TSA Choice president said. “Greenville had their riverfront more convenient to their downtown and revitalized it first. It will be interesting to see what Asheville does with the River Arts District with New Belgium coming in.”

Asheville has built a strong business community with the Buy Local philosophy, but thinking regionally with Upstate cities could prove equally profitable for growing businesses, Cramer said.

“Businesses don’t see the same kind of borders that governments see,” she said.

“A joint meeting next spring linking the Asheville area and the Upstate, as officials and business leaders get acquainted can only help,” Cramer said.

“It helps that we are different types of communities. We’re not necessarily competing against each other for the same type of companies,” Cramer said. “We have the best of both worlds along that stretch of interstate. It’s easier for people who know each other to do business together.”

Asheville Metro Economy
Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Madison counties

Unemployment (August): 5.3%
Civilian labor force: 215,900
Manufacturing: 19,000
Leisure & Hospitality: 26,400
Health: 33,200
Transportation, Retail: 33,000
Government: 24,800
Business, Professional Services: 18,900
Construction: 6,900

Greenville-Easley-Mauldin, SC metro
Greenville, Anderson, Pickens, Laurens counties

Unemployment: 6.1% in August
Civilian Labor Force: 850,965
Manufacturing: 42,005
Health care: 35,800
Leisure & Hospitality: 32,800
Transportation, Retail: 56,400
Government: 43,800
Business, Professional Services; 62,800
Construction; 11,800

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


*This article by Dale Neal appeared in the
Asheville Citizen-Times and in The Greenville News on Saturday, October 18, 2014.

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Mitel CTO Jim Davies speaks at GSATC

Having been in the technology business for more than 30 years, TSAChoice Principal Jeff Lowdermilk has had an opportunity to hear countless presentations from countless speakers, some very good and some, well, not so good. Mitel's CTO Jim Davies is definitely one of the good ones.

Mitel’s CTO Jim Davies has proven to be an engaging speaker with tremendous insight into an ever shifting technological world - and his presentation at the recent GSATC meeting in Greenville, SC was no exception.

His presentations always feel more like a conversation and for this event his talk covered changing trends in the voice and IT space, as well as the significant growth Mitel has seen over the past 18 months and a glimpse of their future plans for growth. These topics must have been relevant for everyone in the room, as every eye remained fixed on Jim for the entire presentation.

This certainly wasn’t the first presentation on how cloud offerings are and will continue to impact decisions on where to house data and applications that are critical to business customers, but it did provide additional insight into how tomorrow’s cloud landscape is likely to look. Jim envisions that the majority of cloud environments will be private, as opposed to businesses housing data and applications in a few gigantic data centers. These will be virtual environments with applications layered on top, located either on a customer premise, in a local data center, or possibly in one of the gigantic centers.  Drivers for moving to cloud include the centralization of resources, cost reduction, and possible outsourcing of data management, among other things.

Mitel has been a strategic partner for TSAChoice, Inc. since the mid 1980s, always providing reliable and powerful voice solutions for our customers.  Their growth over the past 18 months has been exciting to watch and ensures both partners and customers are aligned with a "best of breed" provider. The strategic acquisitions of PrairieFyre, Aastra, Oaisys and Telepo have more than doubled Mitel’s size while also enabling them to strengthen their efforts in the Contact Center space.  Jim’s glimpse into Mitel’s next 3 years indicates additional acquisitions are likely and continued growth is ensured.

Jeff Lowdermilk, Principal

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Tech Talk
TSA"Choice" Awards for 2014 TSA"Choice" Awards for 2014 At TSAChoice, we jokingly like to say, we are the best looking tech team around. Now physically, I don't know if that is true, but if you believe that true beauty comes from within, you will not find a team that has more heart than TSAChoice. Read more… Jan 19, 2015
Section 179 an Early Gift from Government Section 179 an Early Gift from Government The end of another tax year is just a few days away! This year, however, the game has changed thanks to legislation signed by President Obama on December 19, 2014 which includes Section 179 and Bonus Depreciation. Read more… Dec 23, 2014
I Code, You Code, We All Code I Code, You Code, We All Code Mrs. Garner's class at Isaac Dickson Elementary was preparing to participate in the Hour of Code and needed an extra set of hands. Read more… Dec 11, 2014
Walking for Charity Challenge Walking for Charity Challenge TSAChoice issued a 10,000-step walking challenge to its customers to benefit charity and encourage healthy lifestyle. The challenge was accepted by seven local companies in WNC and upstate SC. Read more… Dec 02, 2014
Saint Nicholas Project- Drop Off Location Saint Nicholas Project- Drop Off Location If you live or work around the Enka Candler area and would like to drop off a toy for the Eblen-Kimmel Charities Saint Nicholas Project, please feel free to come by our office. Read more… Nov 28, 2014
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