As an experienced thermographer, Bowling Green’s John Harnage knows how to find hot spots in homes and commercial buildings. As a lifelong entrepreneur, he knows how to recognize what’s hot in the business world.
Now, amid perhaps the biggest business disruption since the Great Depression, Harnage is seizing an opportunity to marry those two passions and maybe make Bowling Green a hotbed for getting people back to work safely.
“Sixty days ago, sales of elevated body temperature systems were right at zero,” Harnage said. “Now everybody is going to need one.”
That epiphany came at about the time Harnage was celebrating his 50th birthday in March while wondering, like any business owner, if the coronavirus pandemic was going to ravage his fledgling Kentucky Thermal Institute.
Harnage started that enterprise in 2016, eventually setting up shop in the Small Business Accelerator at Western Kentucky University’s Center for Research and Development on Nashville Road.
Harnage and his three employees built a thriving business helping customers find problems with their electrical wiring, insulation and energy use.
“I was on cruise control, and we were headed for our best month ever,” Harnage said. “Then, like a balloon that pops, that was gone.”
It wasn’t the happiest of birthdays for Harnage. But he quickly found a new niche in the business of using thermal imaging to detect people with elevated body temperatures.
“The phone started ringing because our clients knew what we could do with thermal imaging,” Harnage said.
What Harnage’s company could do was meet a need that all businesses suddenly have: the ability to quickly and efficiently detect elevated body temperatures as one way of screening for the coronavirus.
Seemingly overnight, the Kentucky Thermal Institute found a growing demand for the products it carries in partnership with Flir Systems, a leading manufacturer of thermal imaging devices.
But Harnage wasn’t content to simply sell the devices to businesses, schools and restaurants. He wanted to put together a complete package for his clients that includes equipment, education and training.
“That’s what is going to separate us,” Harnage said. “We’re selling a system, not just a box. This is an opportunity for thermographers to be on the forefront.”
To help his customers get the training that will enable them to properly use the thermal imaging device, Harnage has opened a partnership with WKU to start an online education platform that will allow those who complete it to earn what he’s calling an “Elevated Body Temp Thermologist Certificate.”
Harnage believes such a system will allow companies and schools to use the equipment properly and get people back on the job. “Here in Bowling Green, we have the opportunity to lead the country in putting people back to work,” Harnage said. “We’ll probably do more educating than selling products.”
Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ron Bunch believes Harnage and Kentucky Thermal Institute are on to something.
“What they’re offering will help businesses and help individuals feel more comfortable,” Bunch said. “That will help with the recovery. The partnership with WKU can create new career pathways and help businesses grow and stay safe.”
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdaily news.com.