Celebrating growth

The Vancouver Business Journal’s fourth annual Southwest Washington Business Growth Awards honored the 2007 fiscal year growth of the region’s top companies May 22 at the Hilton Vancouver.

Five private companies and one nonprofit organization took home awards, and Egils Milbergs delivered the keynote address on the importance of innovation in securing the United State’s position at the top of the global marketplace.

Milbergs is the director of the newly formed Economic Development Commission for Washington State. Washington, he said, is poised to be at the forefront of the nation due to its innovation.

More than 160 people attended the finalist showcase, cocktail reception and awards dinner.


Winner: Burgerville

Jeff Harvey, CEO, Burgerville


Percent of employees with health benefits: 84

Savings from composting and recycling: $100,000

Sustainability is not a word typically associated with the burgers and fries. But it’s a priority for Burgerville.

Since the company was founded in Vancouver 47 years ago, Burgerville has made a point of partnering with local businesses, farms and food producers. As it grows, it has surprised the industry by becoming more efficient, less wasteful and integrating employee input at all levels.

Those practices have proven effective and lucrative. Burgerville has 39 restaurants in Washington and Oregon, 1,500 employees and 2007 revenue topped $60 million.

“Through double-digit growth over the past two years, we have shown that we can profitably support our sustainable practices while helping to show other businesses and individuals how to effectively utilize these and other practices,” said Chief Executive Officer Jeff Harvey in an email.

Responding to employee concerns, Burgerville began providing health care coverage in 2006 for employees who work at least 20 hours a week. Workers pay $15 a month for an individual plan, or $60 a month for a family plan. The company pays 95 percent of the premium. Turnover dropped from 128 percent to 52 percent by 2007, with 84 percent of employees on the plan.

Since 2006, 36 Burgerville restaurants have joined an expanded recycling program. Of those, 21 also are composting food waste. Those restaurants are diverting half of their waste from landfills with a goal of 85 percent diversion by the end of 2008. The effort is expected to save $100,000 annually in waste removal.

In 2006 the company removed trans-fats from its kitchens and began recycling used cooking oil. Each month an average of 4,400 gallons of Burgerville’s cooking oil are converted into 3,300 gallons of biodiesel.

Also with the environment in mind, Burgerville converted to 100 percent wind power at all of its locations in 2005.

The company also adapted a unique leadership approach. When Harvey was promoted from chief operating officer to his current position in January, not one, but three people replaced him – Chief Financial Officer Kyle Dean, Chief Development Officer Tara Wefers and Chief Talent Officer Janice Williams.

On the horizon is a compostable, reusable food packaging initiative, which will be launched in phases this year.

— Charity Thompson



Winner: Acuity Group LLP

Tiffany Couch and Laura Preston, owners


Enjoyed a revenue of $97,248 in 2007

Tiffany Couch and Laura Preston founded Acuity Group in Vancouver in May 2007. In 2007, the forensic accounting and litigation support firm enjoyed revenue of $97,248, and nearly doubled that by the end of April 2008 – reaching its two-year goal in 11 months.

Couch and Preston work from their homes in Vancouver and Bellingham, respectively, helping small- and medium-size companies untangle knots in bank records, family trusts, divorces and business partnerships.

Couch said the job is a bit like detective work.

“I look at the books and records of a company to find out what happened and it tells me a story,” she said.

Couch is a certified public accountant specializing in fraud investigation, and was one of the VBJ’s Accomplished and Under 40 in 2007. Preston has worked in forensic accounting for 11 years, much of that time as an independent consultant. They met while collaborating at Moss Adams in Seattle in 2005.

With Vancouver as its primary base, the firm picked up 26 clients in its first year, with income ranging from less than $1,000 to $10,000 per project. The work takes Couch and Preston across the Pacific Northwest and to Denver and Kansas City.

The flood of income was a relief to the duo, who knew they were taking a risk.

“It’s not like we’re selling a known product,” Preston said. “You have to wait until someone finds out they’re in the middle of a dispute that’s hairy enough to need a consultant. You can’t plan for that.”

Aside from being number-savvy, the duo attributes its success to a responsive, practical and straightforward approach. Running an all-female firm in a traditionally male field hasn’t been a challenge, Couch and Preston said, but it has put them in a unique position.

“Women tend to second-guess themselves over and over,” Preston said. “The consequence, in my experience, has been that our products tell a story that’s more black and white. There aren’t any assumptions – there are facts that help decision makers.”

With work showing no signs of slowing, Acuity may open a Vancouver office and hire an associate in the next year.

“Managing the work can be a challenge because it’s either feast or famine,” Couch said. “We’re in a niche and we can make it as big or as small as we want it.”

— Charity Thompson



Finalist: Anchor Point Counseling Center

Laura Lewis and Drew Lindsell, owners


Grossed $110,000 in its first year and doubled staff

For Laura Lewis and Drew Lindsell, opening their own substance abuse and domestic violence treatment center meant a chance to chart their own path.

The two counselors had worked together at a Vancouver treatment center and were both eager to provide services to clients in a different way. They opened the faith-based treatment center in Battle Ground in March 2007.

Anchor Point is the only treatment center in Battle Ground, and Lewis and Lindsell located the business there to serve the clients who have transportation issues, making it difficult for them to get to treatment in Vancouver.

The center has developed good relationships with law enforcement and the criminal justice system, generating credibility, he said.

After a year in business, Anchor Point is serving at least 70 clients – half seeking substance abuse treatment and half seeking domestic violence treatment. And more than half of the clients are meeting their goals.

The center recently added weekend sessions, a service Lindsell said is only offered in this area by Anchor Point.

Before Lewis and Lindsell opened the center, they sought guidance from Janet Harte at the Small Business Development Center, and they’ve hit all of their business plan benchmarks. After one year in business, the company grossed $110,000.

 “I’ve gained a lot of confidence,” Lindsell said of the growth. “When you begin, you wonder, ‘Will it fly?’ We’ve had a lot of acceptance from the community with positive feedback and a relatively high success rate.”

The company started with two full-time employees. It has since added a full-time receptionist, one full-time trainee and a part-time trainee.

“We have a payroll now,” Lindsell said, laughing.

In the future, Anchor Point looks to introduce youth treatment for anger management.

— Megan Patrick-Vaughn



Winner: Techjet Imaging

Don Bloodworth and Jason Beatty, owners


Has grown 20 percent year-over-year

Now in its fourth year, Techjet Imaging has established itself as a top large format digital inkjet producer in the local marketplace. The Vancouver company has seen 20 percent year-over-year growth, said Don Bloodworth, a co-owner.

“The growth is due to increased familiarity in the marketplace and a price point that is perceived as value,” Bloodworth said. “We’re able to deliver a high-quality product in a timely manner within (clients’) budgets.”

Aside from the market growth, 2007 brought about several changes for the company.

Techjet upgraded one of its two industrial inkjet presses to the highest output quality available, and December brought the announcement that Hewlett-Packard would acquire NUR Macroprinters, the maker of Techjet’s digital presses.

Techjet was the first company to use the Nur Tempo II UV printer in the Northwest and western Canada. It made the decision to go with the NUR platform, though at the time it was a calculated risk because NUR’s long-term viability was uncertain.

Bloodworth said HP’s acquisition validated the company’s strategy. However, with HP’s massive strength in marketing and sales, it is reasonable to assume other area companies that are looking to acquire digital presses will look to HP – possibly inviting competition. In 2007, Techjet unveiled a major rebrand that changed its look and feel from that of a traditional sign shop to a professional graphics company and introduced the tagline “Beyond the dot.” The new look of the brand, logo and website has been well received in the marketplace, Bloodworth said.

Also last year, Techjet was able to consolidate all of its financing into a single United States Small Business Association loan.

“The growth we’ve experienced really validates the strategy we had when we started the business,” Bloodworth said.

The company was started on the premise that large format digital inkjet production was one of the fastest growing segments in the print industry and that the Northwest was underserved.

In the near future, Techject expects further growth and is looking to introduce product offerings, rather than being strictly project-oriented.

— Megan Patrick-Vaughn



Finalist: Estimates Northwest Inc.

Kris Anderson and Dawn Waldal, owners


Annual staff growth: 200 percent

Annual revenue growth: 185 percent

Estimates Northwest was founded in the Vancouver home of its owners, Kris Anderson and Dawn Waldal in 2004, and is on the verge of outgrowing its space for the fourth time.

The materials estimating and blueprinting company now operates in a 3,000-square-foot Vancouver facility. Anderson and Waldal hope to double into an adjacent space this year.

Anderson has worked in the building industry for 18 years, owning Kris Anderson Construction in Bend, Ore., from 1994 to 2003. Waldal is a metal fabrication artist who opened Vancouver’s Urban Eccentric clothing store, which she sold in 2003.

Many of Estimates Northwest’s 130 clients are outside the Northwest, uploading construction plans to the company’s website from as far as Hawaii, Florida and Pennsylvania.

The company gains local clients with in-person prospecting, and markets to distant companies through cold calling and faxing. They tend to stick around because of a free trial service, quick turnarounds and estimate guarantees, Waldal said.

“We believe in old school customer service, 100 percent,” she said. “You do whatever’s needed to keep your customer happy.” 

Waldal expects her customer base to double by the end of 2009, and gross sales for 2008 should reach at least $750,000. Revenue in 2007 jumped to $540,000 from $189,000 in 2006. 

Waldal and Anderson began hiring outside help after four months in operation, and their staff grew from five in 2006 to 15 in 2007. Slowdowns in the construction industry led to the layoff of three employees in 2008, but Waldal said she hopes to refill those positions as the market improves.

Because of the growth the company experienced, Estimates Northwest unveiled its subsidiary, Northwest Builders Resource, in 2008. The plan center has 60 members and operates inside Estimates Northwest’s headquarters. The company already is looking to establish two satellite offices in Portland.

“The growth pains sometimes are really fun,” Waldal said.

— Charity Thompson



Winner: Antares Advanced Test Technologies

Matt Bergeron, CEO


Revenue was up 50 percent to $52.5 million in 2007

In seven years, Antares Advanced Test Technologies has become a one-stop shop for its clients by harnessing several corporate mergers and acquisitions.

Antares makes testing technology for some of the nation’s largest computer chip manufacturers. That job is increasingly challenging as computer chips become smaller and more powerful, said Susan McDowell, a company spokeswoman.

Formerly known as UMD Technology and UMD Advance Test Technologies, the Vancouver company merged with Gilbert, Ariz.-based Antares conTech in 2006. The merger brought an Arizona office and a Chinese manufacturer under the company’s umbrella. After the merger, the company’s revenue increased from $34.9 million in 2006 to $52.5 million in 2007, and employee numbers grew from 400 to 453.

Already in 2008, Antares continued growing with acquisitions of Phoenix-based Wells-CTI, Texas-based Circuitpak and DB Design and TCI, both in the San Jose, Calif., area.

“Through all of the acquisitions, we’ve made it a one-stop shop for customers,” said Susan McDowell, an Antares spokeswoman.

That has improved production and control for the company while shortening the timeline before its clients’ products hit the market. In turn, Antares said its clients are getting new business and growing existing accounts.

Antares’ chief executive officer, Matt Bergeron, also attributes the growth to a high level of customer service.

“We offer worldwide support for our customers so they can design our products in the United States and implement them in Asia, where a lot of the manufacturing occurs,” he said. “We try to treat our customers with Nordstrom-type service and focus on engineering and product innovations.”

The company’s engineers authored technical articles in 2007 and 2008 for Chip Scale Review, Advanced Packaging and Connector Specifier industry magazines. They also presented at industry events such as the BiTS trade show and IMAPS and SEMICON conferences.

Looking ahead, Antares plans to make further acquisitions, continue to hire more engineers and develop more proprietary products.

— Charity Thompson



Finalist: Bank of Clark County

Michael C. Worthy, CEO


Assets grew 22.79 percent in 2007

While the national mortgage crunch left many banks tightening their belts, Bank of Clark County continues to see notable growth.

The Vancouver-based bank was the VBJ’s winner in this category last year, and remained in this year’s top four with record asset growth of 22.79 percent in 2007. The bank also opened its first branch in March 2008, establishing a presence in East Clark County. 

The slowing economy and lower interest rates did affect the bank in 2007, when net income was 5.6 percent lower than its record $4.5 million in 2006, said Bruce Paris, executive vice president.

“We have to weather these times and indications are that (interest) rates might edge up this fall,” he said. “We’re watching expenses carefully and trying to maintain our borrowing rates above our savings rates so we can continue to generate profits for our stockholders.”

But during these slower times, BOCC expanded its presence with a courier service, which now makes 300 stops a day.

“We are a business bank,” Paris said. “We bring the bank to them. The first question people ask is how many branches we have. We’ve got headquarters and seven unmarked vans. … Vans are a lot cheaper than bricks and mortar.”

The bank donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to about 200 community organizations in 2007, and has given nearly $2 million in its nine-year history.

Bank of Clark County received several honors in 2007. It was 25th on U.S. Banker Magazine’s national list of 200 top community banks. The Better Business Bureau awarded BOCC its Large Business of the Year Torch Award and the Association of Washington Businesses honored the bank’s care of its 100 employees a nod with the Better Workplace Award.

“We don’t want to be known as that little bank in downtown Vancouver,” Paris said. “We have to have a presence in East County and probably in North County also.”

— Charity Thompson



Finalist: Electrix

Ray Kelly, president


Revenue reached $16.8 million in 2007

When Electrix moves forward, it takes large steps.

In 2001, the Vancouver-based electrical contractor had a first-year revenue of $500,000. Each year since, it has seen double-digit growth. By 2007, revenue reached $16.8 million, and this year the company is on track for 25 percent growth with $7 million in first-quarter sales. That trend was bred by multi-million-dollar projects that tend to last two years each.

President Ray Kelly still works with the company’s original leadership team. He said much of its success comes from project management skills as the team navigates seemingly impossible projects. In 2007, Kelly doubled his project-based workforce to 200 to handle a growing load of projects with shrinking timelines.

“Once we finished a $300,000 job, the next time they’d give us a $3 million job,” Kelly said.

He set his sights high when founding the company. Kelly has been an executive at electrical contracting companies since the 1980s, including Portland’s E C Co. At Electrix, his clients include global technology, gasoline and aircraft companies. 

Serving the growing industrial, technology and alternative energy sectors also has helped growth, as have projects outside the Northwest. Electrix has completed jobs as far away as Texas, Hawaii, Florida and Alaska.

“A lot would think it’s risky and hunker down at home,” Kelly said. “But we like it. We say, ‘Oh gee, that’s not possible? Perfect!’”

Vice President Jeff Marsh said the company looks for projects other contractors shy away from.  Electrix’s safe work environment was ranked in the top 1 percent of its industry by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

“We plan our work extremely well and we tool it properly,” Kelly said. “Our guys have the best equipment and tools you can have. That supports them in meeting their goals and asks them to do their part.”

— Charity Thompson



Finalist: Silicon Forest Electronics

Frank Nichols, president


Revenue hit $19 million in 2007

While many American companies are manufacturing overseas, Silicon Forest Electronics continues to make its products right here in Vancouver.

The 10-year-old company makes electronic products for the aerospace, medical, defense and instrumentation industries. At the end of the 2007 fiscal year, its revenue was $19 million, up 18 percent from 2006. During that time, its staff grew from 110 to 115. This year’s revenue is on track to hit $23 million and employee numbers are up to 126.

That growth has come in all of its client sectors across the board, said Jay Schmidt, a company spokesman. 

“Success breeds more work,” he said. “In an area like this, word travels fast that you’re doing well for somebody. Everybody knows each other in this (local) industry.”

Manufacturing in Vancouver lets clients be involved in product designs, which allows for faster production than the company could get overseas.

“We appealed to (new clients) from a quality and speed aspect,” Schmidt said. “Their business increased and we got to partake in that.”

To prepare for clients’ ever-challenging requests, Silicon Forest has invested in ongoing training for employees.

“We value relationships first and foremost – employee development is a big thing,” Schmidt said. “We do a lot of training so associates can be prepared for the (challenges) customers throw at us.”

Indicating the level of challenges the company takes on, its mission statement includes maintaining “an extreme, ‘hang-on-for-the-ride’ atmosphere that provokes action.”

“In this industry, ‘extreme’ is a differentiator,” Schmidt said. “We do things that are hard and complex, and we have to do them faster than the competition.

Most of Silicon Forest’s clients are based in the Northwest, but its sales force is stretching to the Midwest and its leaders plan to go further. In Vancouver, Silicon Forest is expanding its staff, machine capabilities and equipment investments to create more quick-turn production lines.

— Charity Thompson



Winner: Columbia/Okura LLC

Brian Hutton, general manager


Approaching its 400th robot installation in North America

In 1996, when Columbia/Okura LLC was founded, the Vancouver company sold one robotic palletizing system. Now, it’s approaching its 400th robot installation in North America.

Columbia/Okura designs, integrates, installs and provides ongoing customer service for customized robotic palletizing systems. The systems are capable of handling almost any kind of packaged materials, including cases, bags, pails and trays.

The company has robots in 45 of the 50 United States, and from 2006 to 2007, revenue grew 12.4 percent. In 2008, Columbia/Okura expects sales revenues in excess of $15 million. 

General Manager Brian Hutton said the company’s growth is due in great part to favorable word of mouth from its successful installations.

“In the beginning, clients in North America really didn’t know the Okura robot,” he said. “It took a lot of energy to get those initial sales. With the growth of our business, reaching our critical mass, what’s really been helpful is the ability to show potential clients our robot applications that are in the field.”

The number of employees in 2007 grew slightly to about 45 full-time employees.

“It’s challenging to continue to grow staff during years of heavy growth,” Hutton said. “Recruiting a capable staff in growth periods – especially for engineering and tech service – has been a challenge.”

And as the company continues to grow, it will challenge the footprint of its manufacturing space.

Columbia/Okura has overcome its initial growing pains from lack of sales.

It is jointly owned by Vancouver-based Columbia Machine Inc. and Japan’s Okura Yusoki Co. Ltd., which manufactures conveyor and robotic palletizing systems. The partnership came about because Columbia Machine was looking for a palletizing technology to supplement its existing position in conventional palletizing systems, and Okura Yusoki was searching for a North American company that could enhance its position in the market through robotic arm integration and distribution.

“We’re now seeing good year-over-year revenue growth, profit growth and year-over-year system growth in the number of systems we ship,” Hutton said. “We try to have a good mix of repeat growth with existing customers and new customers.”

— Megan Patrick-Vaughn



Finalist: The Management Group

Carmen Villarma, owner


2007 revenue was up 15 percent from 2006

Owner Carmen Villarma credits much of The Management Group’s growth to the Vancouver company’s business model.

“It has actually allowed us to experience some good growth when it’s possible other companies weren’t able to because of economics and the real estate market,” she said.

The property management company’s model is designed so that regardless of how the real estate cycle is performing, it can sustain growth.

The Management Group, which was founded in 1985 is split into six divisions: associations (condos and homeowners associations), commercial, construction and development, single family residences, apartment communities, and in-house maintenance and sales.

“A few years ago, when sales were really hot, our sales division did really well,” Villarma said. “Rentals weren’t doing well because everybody was buying. Now rents are up, vacancies are down and sales are in the tank.”

The association management division, which isn’t affected much by the market, continues to be a good market share, as does the maintenance division.

“Regardless of whether the real estate market is really good or bad, at some point, every one of our sectors can be up,” Villarma said.

In the last couple of years, the company has refined the sectors, and in the last year, The Management Group invested in state-of-the-art technology for the association management division. Each association now can have its own website where members can blog and chat online. Clients have responded very well, and the service is one of the main reasons for actual revenue growth, Villarma said.

In 2007, revenue grew 15 percent from 2006. The company also increased its physical office space and invested in 10 new staff members, including three key hires: a full-time human resources director, capital projects manager and corporate controller.

The company has offices in Vancouver, Portland, Albany, Oregon, and Kennewick, Wash. Villarma expects to continue growing north toward the Seattle-Tacoma area and in Eastern Washington.

— Megan Patrick-Vaughn



Finalist: Community Home Health & Hospice

Greg Pang, executive director


Annual revenue was up 26 percent from 2006 to 2007

Organization-wide, Community Home Heath and Hospice’s gross revenue grew 26 percent from 2006 to 2007.

Executive Director Greg Pang pointed to two key factors in the growth: escalation of the aging population and a significant investment in marketing and community relations.

“The people who are using our services want to be independent,” he said. “People are increasingly saying ‘I’m not going to be in assisted living. I want to be safe and independent at home for as long as possible.”

For the outreach effort, CHHH invested in four staff members: a community relations director and three community liaison nurses. The liaison nurses work with area hospital discharge planners to help transition patients from the hospital to home care.

They can meet the patients, help them understand their medical conditions and available care options.

By law, the hospitals are required to provide patients with several options for home care, but the service helped increase the number of patients cared for through the Vancouver office by almost 350 percent in 18 months

The organization is based in Longview, and serves Cowlitz, Clark and Wahkiakum counties in Washington and Columbia County in Oregon.

Since 2005, the number of staff has increased 29 percent, and revenue has grown 42 percent from just shy of $12 million to a projected revenue of $17 million for the fiscal year, which ends in September. In Clark County alone, revenue was up 48 percent during that period.

“For any agency that’s in rapid expansion, it is critical to maintain or improve the quality of service,” Pang said.

The organization, which sees 600 patients on any given day, measures satisfaction through surveys – which he said consistently garner top results.

“Even in rapid expansion, that signals our ability to get staff trained, oriented and instill in them the importance of customer service,” Pang said.

— Megan Patrick-Vaughn



Affordable Community Environments

Pam Brokaw, executive director


2007 income grew 360 percent from 2006

In 2006, the Affordable Community Environments board of directors decided to make a fundamental shift to grow both the organization and its work, and 2007 bore the fruit of that decision.

At the beginning of the break-away year, Pam Brokaw was hired as executive director. The staff grew from one to five employees and the nonprofit launched a widespread outreach effort. In the past, ACE hadn’t focused much on outreach to the business community or donors. But 2007 saw an aggressive fundraising effort, and income grew nearly 360 percent from 2006.

Affordable Community Environments was created in 1989 to provide accessible, affordable and sustainable housing in Southwest Washington, and has done so with three housing developments of 115 total units.

The growing organization moved its offices to downtown Vancouver to be closer to service agencies and began two major sustainable affordable housing efforts. On May 9, ACE announced a mixed use development in Fruit Valley that will include affordable housing, the organization’s headquarters and space for Boys and Girls Club after-school programming.

The organization also has contracted with Clark County to provide transitional housing for people recovering from mental illness and addiction. In the past year, ACE also has laid the groundwork for projects in the Fourth Plain Corridor, Hazel Dell, downtown Vancouver and East Vancouver – which required collaboration with multiple community partners.

The partnerships are vital to the direction ACE wants to move in the future.

“I think the key is that these are projects that are needed,” Brokaw said. “We’ve tried to be innovative and inclusive as we move along, and the broader business community is stepping in.”

At the announcement of the Fruit Valley project, Bank of Clark County committed $25,000 to the organization.

“A lot of times, these things don’t happen because you just don’t ask,” Brokaw said.

The growth the organization has experienced is rewarding, she added.

“We’ve built a very strong team, and I think the proof really comes in what we’re able to produce,” Brokaw said. “I think the fact we were able to stand up together in Fruit Valley and say this is a go underscores the end result of a year of really hard work.”

— Megan Patrick-Vaughn


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