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|Tuesday, July 01, 2008|
Oregon’s top private companies diversify to stay ahead of the downturn.
By Ben Jacklet
Frank Foti sprints up a flight of rusty stairs to a gritty rooftop with a panoramic view of Portland’s shipyard. Down below, workers in hardhats are pedaling bicycles from one job site to the next, through a maze of huge cement blocks, oil drums, spools of wire, pipes and beams. The air resonates with a purposeful hum of ventilation systems, forklifts, trucks and cranes. A half-dozen boats are docked for repairs, including a dredge ship, a tugboat, a tour boat and several military vessels. A huge new barge, the 360-foot, 6,000-ton Maka’ala, is nearly ready for launching.
Fortis also has invested heavily in sustainability, with a large percentage of LEED-certified green building specialists and a goal to gain eventual accreditation for all managers and superintendents. These green credentials have helped Fortis benefit from the latest wave of commercial and public works projects in Oregon.
But it is unclear how long the money will keep flowing. As a hedge against an eventual slowdown, Fortis is aggressively pursuing technology data centers, which store servers for companies expanding their Internet capabilities. David Aaroe, executive vice president, explains that these buildings appear simple from the outside but are incredibly complex inside.
One of Columbia’s main competitors for future firefighting contracts will be Evergreen Aviation (No. 9), another perennial front-runner on the Private 150 list. After investing more than $50 million in research and 20,000 engineer hours, Evergreen has begun marketing its massive new firefighting “supertanker,” a Boeing 747 retrofitted with water nozzles to blast huge volumes of liquid onto forest fires. This new approach to firefighting represents the latest innovation for the one-of-a-kind McMinnville-based company that specializes in everything from unmanned aerial drones to hazelnut shells.
Even the king of the Private 150 has had to diversify to stay on top. Closely held Jeld-Wen, headquartered in Klamath Falls, rose to the top of the list in 1996 after years of double-digit growth and has stayed No. 1 ever since, building name recognition through a sponsorship spending spree targeting Australian Rules football, NASCAR, an OHSU leukemia research program and, of course, golf. Millions of television viewers see ads touting Jeld-Wen’s doors and windows while watching the Jeld-Wen Tradition and the Player’s Championship. Jeld-Wen also has deepened its expansion into the leisure business, opening a huge new water park at its destination resort in Idaho and an upscale resort called Suncadia in Washington where homes are selling for up to $3.25 million.
Gresham-based Allegro Media Group (No. 101), which matched Fortis Construction’s 108% sales growth, is another case study in strategic adaptation. The Gresham-based entertainment distribution company has quadrupled its business over the past five years to $100 million in sales and 100 employees by delving into every genre of music imaginable, from classical to New Age to indie rock, distributing digital music and videos through major Internet sites as well as CDs and books on tape through Wal-Mart, truck stops, Nordstrom and other retailers.
Between its new 131,000-square-foot facility in Rockwood, its recent acquisition of a company that specializes in marketing music and videos to the Armed Forces and a new infusion of $37 million in equity, Allegro is well positioned to avoid the misfortunes plaguing less nimble players within the music and entertainment industry.
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