Although Larson Texts specializes in teaching math, my visit to the Millcreek Township office left me with a different lesson: Perseverance.
As CEO Matthew Totzke describes, the company was launched after Dr. Ron Larson, a professor at Penn State Behrend, tried to write four different mathematics textbooks over the course of six years. When he finally succeeded in capturing a publisher’s interest, he got not one offer but 15.
“He hit upon something that really resonated,” Totzke says.
That “something” was a student-centered approach to teaching math. And Larson continued that mission, joining with fellow Behrend professor Bob Hostetler and expanding Larson Texts over the years.
Though Larson Texts built a steady business writing textbooks for other publishers, that undercurrent of perseverance emerged again. This time, it pushed the company to take on a new enterprise – an undertaking that, while challenging, nevertheless held the promise for a big future.
In 2008, Larson Texts launched its Big Ideas Learning subsidiary, which would allow the company to publish and sell its own textbooks. The enterprise, which puts Larson “in control of our own fate,” according to Totzke, shows how the company has embraced a true entrepreneurial spirit.
The perseverance to pursue Big Ideas has paid off for the company. In spring 2018, the company plans to launch its K-5 textbooks, which would give it a full K-12 product line in mathematics.
A few months later, the company plans to be putting the finishing touches on an expansion of its current headquarters, which is inside the renovated former Belle Valley School. The new 35,000-square-foot space will allow the company to continue to expand – which it has been doing steadily since the launch of Big Ideas, growing from about 50 employees then to more than 100 now.
Through it all, the company has remained true to its original philosophy: Help the reader. That was Dr. Larson’s idea for his student-centered text, and it’s how Larson Texts continues to operate. These days, that includes supplementary study aids for students (while other companies charge extra for that, “we give it away for free,” Totzke says) as well as thoughtfully designed texts for teachers.
“It’s the same for every book,” Totzke says. “We construct our materials in a way that respects those using it.”
About Larson Texts: The company, which still writes textbooks for other companies as well as publishing its own, employs a stable of mathematicians and educators, as well as graphic artists, typesetters, marketing professionals and more. The company can count itself among the top three or four K-12 mathematics textbook companies, Totzke says.
Why Erie County: One of the biggest advantages is proximity to universities, where the local math programs consistently turn out high-quality graduates, Totzke says. Larson Texts uses some of those college students to staff a help desk, where young textbook users can get homework help via chat. And if the upcoming expansion is any indication, it is clear that Larson Texts has secured a long-term future in the community.
Challenges of Erie County: While Larson Texts has had good luck filling math-related positions, the company has faced some challenges hiring for other positions, including tech and marketing jobs. It’s partly due to the unique needs of an education-based company, Totzke says. He says the company has in the past found it difficult to get people to relocate to Erie County for a job, but that efforts to “sell” Erie have been better lately.
Fun fact: More than 5 million students study with Larson Texts books every year.
Coming up next week: We check out Escape Game Erie, one of the county’s most popular new attractions.