There's an unusual warehouse on the highway leading to this neat suburb. The place receives a commodity, stores it and ships it to customers on demand.
So what's unusual?
The workforce, for one thing: the average laborer at this warehouse has two years of postgraduate education. Then there's the storeroom: more than a million items are stocked in a space the size of a broom closet. And there's the commodity itself: it is invisible, intangible and, to some buyers, invaluable.
This warehouse stores information.
The Parsippany facility houses a huge computer that is the heart of The New York Times Information Bank, Inc., a give-year-old firm that has emerged as a major factor in one of the nation's fastest-growing businesses - the information industry.
The computerized collection, organization and distribution of information - a business that did not exist 15 years ago - is today a $2 billion industry, according to industry leaders, and sales are growing at a rate of 30 per cent annually.
What the information industry sells is access to various computer memory banks that have been stuffed with facts. For a fairly hefty fee and after some training, a customer can code in a question on a personal computer terminal and receive a printout from a voluminous electronic file of information covering almost the entire sales are growing at a rate of 30 per to date have been technicaL. Hospitals canask computers about surgical techniques; law firms can probe precedents; other users can draw from data banks storing everything from census facts to celebrities' performance schedules.
But now The Information Bank, a subsidiary of the New York Times Co., and a few other firms have started selling current affairs information via computer. The firms, whose computers are fed a daily diet of pre-digested newspapers and popular periodicals, are giving the industry a considerably broader market.
Jimmy Carter had an Information Bank terminal aboard his campaign plane, Peanut One, to keep track of campaign promises. That terminal is now on duty in the White House.
About 50 other federal offices are customers, according to Jim O'Toole, the local Information Bank salesman. They use the system to check on job applicants, to track how federal grants are used, to test editorial opinion about federal programs, and even to judge how many publications reprint their press releases.
Among the chief federal users are the Central Intelligence Agency, the FBI and the national Security Agency, aaccording to O'Toole. "Those security agencies find our system nicely suites their needs," he said.
Other major buyers include corporations, credit bureaus, interest groups and educational institutions ranging from Harvard university to the Montgomery County (Md.)schools.
With the growth of the market - which is only one of a dozen providers, the Time's system, has doubled its sales each year - the nascent industry has begun to acquire the outlines of a traditional business structure, with manufacturers, distributors and retailers popping out around the country.
"Manufacturing" in this context involves a company taking information - from a publication, a government report or whatever - and storing it, usually in abbreviated form, in a computer memory.
The chief producer of information today seems to be the federal government, which is busily involved in editing and digesting hundreds of its own reports and thousands of private-sector publications in such fields as medicine, law and the physical and social sciences.
One private manufacturer turns out computer tapes with digested versions of the Congressional record. Another has digested all American doctoral theses from 1861 to now. There is a computerized record of every public and private research grant in 88 academic disciplines. A New York firm sells tapes tracing the whereabouts and activites of show business celebrities.
here at Parsippany, the Information Bank operates a major "manufacturing" operation, digesting and indexing 62 current periodicals ranging from The Times and The Washington Post to the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and storing up to 1.3 million of them in a memory the size of a broom closet.
The Times subsidiary is unusual in the information industry because it is both a manufacture and a distributor. As a distributor, it sellaccess to the memory of its parsippany computer.
Most other information distributors purchase tapes of digested information from "manufacturers," such as the government, store the tapes in their computers and sell access to them.
To buy that access, a customer needs a little equipment and a lot of money.
A standard typewriter-console terminal, to ask questions, and a simple printer, to type out the answer, rent for about $300 per month, with correspondingly higher fees for fancier equipment. Then there is a time charge for each computer minute a customer requires. The New York Times system sells access for $1.50 per minute, which comes to about $3,600 per month if the system is used for two hours each working day.
Those fees have put many such systems out fo reach for some obvious customers, such as libraries and most newspapers (althought the ABC and NBC news operations are major users, according to The Times).
To fill that gap, information "retailers" have opened shop in most major cities in the past two years. These firms, often tiny store-front operations, invest in terminal equipment and trained operators and then make inquiries of information banks on order from customers who cannot afford to make initial investment.