Foreign Language Translation and Interpreting (“officially” FLS, Inc.) is celebrating its 40th year in business this August. My close friend Judy Smith and I founded the company after retiring as French teachers and realized there existed a vital need in this ever-growing high-tech community – Huntsville — that of communication from and into foreign languages. In our initial letter campaign announcing our business, we were excited to receive an immediate call from PPG Industries. We translated a Russian to English technical document and FLS was launched! That was in 1979.
Several months later, urged by our husbands who were familiar with Government opportunities, FLS won a contract developing proficiency tests in French, German and Korean for the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, which drew upon our teaching backgrounds. Even more significant was being awarded a Certificate of Competency by the U.S. SBA after we were turned down by the U.S. Air Force in our bid on a multilingual contract. The reason they gave: we were “too small”. We went on to successfully administer that contract, a stepping stone to more work with the Army, Redstone Arsenal and other Huntsville and U.S. businesses.
Q: What types of businesses or individuals have you worked with over the years?
FLS has evolved over the years to meet Alabama’s and the U.S. ever-changing market place. In 2010, Judy retired, and I became the sole owner of FLS. Looking back, I believe that FLS’s strength has been in our ability to pivot to meet our customers’ needs: from the Cold War in the 1980’s, to Alabama’s desire to welcome foreign companies here, to translating patents for over 20 years for the US Patent & Trademark Office. For the past 10 years, FLS has established a niche in interpreting in the medical and human services sector. Our focus in 2019 is in two main areas. The first is to grow in those markets that still require human interaction/oversight to provide translation and/or interpreting services. The second is to embrace new technologies to meet customer requirements for competitive price and rapid response time.
Q: You’ve been a member of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber for nearly 40 years. Thank you! How has this impacted your business over the years?
When Judy and I first visited the Chamber, probably in 1980, we were met by Walt Weisman, who was introduced to us as the “baby” of the Von Braun Team. Walt took us under his wing, introducing us around the Chamber and at UAH. Through Chamber connections, we met with UAH’s Business Department Professors and a graduate student was assigned to assist us in developing a business plan! It was a great surprise and honor to receive the Catch a Rising Star Small Business of the Year from the Chamber in 1994! I was heavily involved in the Women’s Business Council in its first years, participated in CEO roundtables and FLS has made sure its employees participate in State of the City, County and U.S. Congressional updates. It was a privilege to serve on the Chamber Board of Directors from 2001-2006. It was without any hesitation that FLS committed to the Regional Growth Initiatives as they were launched. FLS has benefitted from the support of the Chamber through its constant commitment to small business!
Q: What do you gain from being a HREGI investor?
Knowing that FLS’s donation helps the Chamber promote our city to both U.S. and foreign businesses who are interested in all we have to offer in Huntsville and Madison County, is a very worthwhile feeling. By comparison, it is a small amount but I hope it demonstrates my belief that the Chamber plays a vital role in our city’s present and future. FLS has benefitted greatly in updates provided to us because of my HREGI investment. I am very excited to share in celebrating our 40th anniversary with the Chamber!