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Local software company puts McAllen on technological map

By STEPHEN W. SPIVEY (The Monitor)

McALLEN - The city of McAllen has never been viewed as a high-tech center, but one local company has put it on the map with its innovative software programs used by some of the nation's largest cities, counties and school districts.

Easy Access (www.hecorp.com) is a McAllen-based software development company with offices in San Antonio, Denver and San Diego. Operated by founder William Hamer and his wife, Jodi, both of whom grew up in McAllen, Easy Access has accumulated a client base that includes Los Angeles County, the city of San Francisco and San Diego County. In technology-savvy California, leaders have bypassed larger homegrown rivals for the specialized expertise that Easy Access has been pioneering since its inception 25 years ago.

"My wife and I started this company based on what we perceived as a need," said Hamer, a low-key businessman who prefers to keep his company out of the spotlight. "We saw a need here in the Valley to start to look at automating general ledgers and payrolls and accounts receivable. "Today, our focus is on tax billing and collection, assessment, probation (and) voter registration."

A graduate of McAllen High School and the University of Texas-Pan American, Hamer saw the computer revolution coming about 10 years before it really blossomed. An accountant by trade, he formed a bookkeeping company in 1975 called Hamer Enterprises and hired a computer programmer to automate his practice. Within a few years, Hamer was selling a software package to local school districts that tracked payroll, attendance and student scheduling. But the business really took off in the early 1980s when Easy Access narrowed its focus to the public sector and began fine-tuning programs that assess the value of taxable property.

Today, some of the world' most expensive real estate - including Silicon Valley and downtown San Francisco's landmark TransAmerica building - are on tax rolls that are supported by Easy Access' software.

"In Los Angeles, what we do is actually assess the property and determine the value of the property, and specifically, it is for the unsecured property (furniture and equipment)," Hamer said. "We also do the same thing for San Diego County. And then for the city and county of San Francisco, we do both the unsecured and the secured (real estate)." Easy Access also has developed a successful tax billing and collection system that mails out each bill to the property owner and allows the bank to receive the tax revenue directly from the taxpayer, then deposit the money electronically. Hamer said the company has just finished printing tax statements for Cameron County and Starr counties.

His other software company, Texas Logic Inc., has developed programs targeted to the court system. One application that is being used by Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, Webb and Cameron counties tracks convicted criminals sentenced to probation and makes sure they meet the terms of their sentences.

Earleen Polick, division chief for the business division of the San Diego County Assessor's Office, said Easy Access' program assesses 130,000 commercial accounts in the San Diego area using cost and date information collected from taxpayers. "It gives us a lot more flexibility, a lot more control over the program itself," Polick said. "We are now able to do online a lot of things that we used to do manually, such as roll corrections. We are very pleased with the product."

Rey Banda, management information systems director for the city of McAllen, said the city's tax office is running Easy Access' billing and collection package. Banda knows first hand how well the system works; he helped design it when he worked for Hamer from 1982 to 1997. "I was one of the key individuals that worked on the product to design the software. I'm very familiar with it," Banda said. "Nobody ever has to lift a finger to basically process those payments or anything. That has helped us a lot."

About five years ago, Easy Access rolled out its voter registration package in Travis County, which includes the city of Austin. The program allows poll workers to check the voting status electronically of people who show up for early voting through a wireless technology provided by Seagull Technologies.

A separate application that is being tested this year in Monroe County, New York, displays real-time ballot counting on the Internet. "The purpose of this device is to maintain integrity in the voter registration arena with those people who are actually registered voters (and) making sure that they are the ones who are voting," Hamer said. "With our devices, we are now going to allow that early voting as it takes place, you have a device, a mobile device, a wireless device, that allows you to actually check in a voter (and) that they are there at the poll and have voted."

Easy Access is not widely known, locally, but the company has received lots of ink in national technology trade publications. Its voter registration package is profiled in the November issue of Midrange Technology Showcase and in the August issue of News/400. Several other publications are preparing articles on the company.

Hamer said he is a proud resident of the Rio Grande Valley, and hires local workers and trains them for high-tech jobs. He sits on the advisory councils for UTPA's computer science and engineering programs and persuaded IBM, one of the company's business partners, to admit South Texas Community College into its education program. For 10 years, his wife Jodi owned and operated a monthly feature magazine called Successful Attitudes. The magazine, which was distributed to passengers on Conquest Airlines, profiled people, homes, history and events in the Valley. Jodi Hamer, COO, also handles the day-to-day operations of Hamer Enterprises.

"We're Valley people, believe in what the Valley has to offer and is offering," Hamer said. "It has been extremely good to us. Jodi and I believe, in whatever small way, we want to give back to this area . and hopefully be some catalyst of helping technology grow in this area."

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