Avista Corp., formerly Washington Water Power (WWP), is proving to be one of the more nimble U.S. energy businesses. Based in Spokane, Wash., the company holds a diverse portfolio, operating in such variant fields as fuel cell technology, Internet billing, fiber optics and non-energy investments. The company`s 1998 annual revenues are expected to top $3 billion.
Avista adopted the new name to reflect its growth strategy, which seeks to integrate its business lines and create a stronger, more cohesive entity. This integration is partly intended to fend off takeover actions, as well as to improve Avista`s position for merger opportunities. Avista`s attempted merger with Sierra Pacific fell through last year.
The primary reason for Avista`s name change, however, was to fuel the company`s growth. Avista seeks to double its customer base in the next four years, said Susan Nielson, corporate communications strategist. It also wants to increase its market capitalization from $1.1 billion to more than $4 billion in the next several years, and to increase generation and distribution assets.
A metamorphosis of this scale necessitated a title that provides flexibility beyond the 109-year-old utility`s historical identity and geographic location.
“The name change is a purposeful step in furthering our strategy and vision of increasing our national presence and securing a broader platform for our products and services,” said T.M. Matthews, Avista Corp. board chairman, president and CEO.
The Avista name has been a part of the company through its affiliate operations for some time. Avista Energy and Avista Advantage, for example, have been doing business in North America for more than two years. All the company`s non-regulated energy and non-energy businesses are operated under the Avista Capital umbrella. Descriptions of the company`s corporate divisions follow.
– Avista Utilities. The company`s regulated division encompasses Washington Water Power and WP Natural Gas. These utilities will still be identified as divisions of Avista Utilities on customer bill statements and on company vehicles, at least in the short-term.
– Avista Advantage developed and markets proprietary utility billing and information systems. It manages billing and energy-use information for more than 7,000 commercial customer sites throughout the United States. It recently landed contracts to provide consolidated billing and resource accounting services to nearly 700 Stage Store locations and to 273 Extended Stay America Inc. hotels.
– Avista Energy, the corporation`s electricity and natural gas marketing and trading company, provides services to the wholesale market and a growing base of end-use customers. Avista Energy has trading floors in Spokane, Houston and Boston. It recently reached an agreement to purchase Vitol Gas & Electric, a combination that should place Avista Energy in the top 10 energy marketing companies.
– Avista Labs is a developer of proton exchange membrane fuel cells. Last year, it received a $2 million technology development award from the Department of Commerce`s National Institute of Standards and Technology advanced technology program.
– Avista Fiber builds and manages metropolitan area fiber-optic net- works. Its products include custom-designed high-capacity communications systems for voice, data and imaging. It has installed more than 1,000 strand miles of high-capacity fiber optic cable for businesses and schools in Washington.
– Pentzer Corp. is Avista`s private investment company. Its mission is to generate returns higher than those available in the energy industry. Pentzer holds $256 million in assets and has $140 million invested in cash, contracts and equity in various companies.
“Our company has tremendous growth potential,” Matthews said, “but we must move quickly and purposefully to capture emerging growth opportunities in order to leverage ourselves and to grow the value of investments.”