The winners of this year’s Portland Business Alliance’s Growth Awards share the strategies, struggles and secrets of getting to the top.
ON THE WAY UP
Stories by Jon Bell
NO. 1 LARGE COMPANY
Oregon Iron Works
Oregon Iron Works is not a company to be pigeonholed.
Over the past few years, the Clackamas complex-metals fabricator has broadened its scope to focus on a wide range of industries, from hydroelectric, aerospace and nuclear to marine, bridges and even missile defense. OIW also has several irons in the streetcar industry fire and a few heating up in wave energy.
“I think our diversity of capabilities in various industries is our No. 1 one asset,” says CEO Robert Beal. “It’s been growing and I think it will continue to do so.”
The company has experienced significant growth over the last few years. OIW’s workforce grew to 405 in 2006, up from 298 in 2005, and sales over the same period grew 37%.
GROWTH STRATEGY: Forging that growth for the 62-year-old company, according to Beal, has been a conscious effort to empower OIW employees, particularly a set of young, creative workers Beal calls the “young lions.”
“Empowering them, helping them catch part of the vision and then assisting them in participating in it, has led to growth,” he says.
Developing long-term relationships with customers and industry partners has also played a key role.
REVENUE STOKER: Having such diverse capabilities across so many industries has helped OIW realize the strong revenue numbers it has rung up over the past few years. Beal says OIW has seen growth across the board but particularly in hydroelectricity, nuclear and bridges.
“One huge advantage for us is that we’re not locked into one geographic area or one single marketplace,” he says.
OIW’s revenue has also been boosted via the efforts of Oregon’s congressional delegation, which has helped level the playing field, according to Beal.
“Our delegation has done an excellent job of making sure that Oregon is allowed to be competitive for federal dollars,” he says.
GROWING PAINS: An issue taxing the metals industry in general is a lack of qualified workers. Beal says that’s been tough on OIW as the company has grown.
“That’s probably the No. 1 problem that every business in this industry is experiencing,” he says. “It’s a constant search because we’re in such a competitive market.”
And like any growing company, Beal says OIW has felt the strain on its infrastructure — even down to phone and computer systems — as it has added employees and new business.
THE SECRET: Beal returns to employee empowerment when asked for OIW’s secret to success. He also says the company’s ability to take a solution from one industry — say hydroelectric — and apply it to another, like nuclear or marine, has been a key to success.
ON THE HORIZON: At this point, Beal says, the future looks solid for OIW. The country’s infrastructure is growing and always in need of repair, so OIW should find consistent business.
Growing demand for alternative fuels also will help guide the company’s work in the nuclear and wave energy industries, and the defense sector remains strong. OIW’s streetcar line — the first prototype is under construction — is also promising and could lead to new jobs if all goes well.
“We see a bright future,” says Beal, “but it’s going to take a lot of work.”
NO. 1 MEDIUM COMPANY
Miles Fiberglass & Composites
Talk about humble beginnings.
Lowell Miles was just 21 when he found himself smitten by, of all things, fiberglass, after visiting a boat show in 1958.
So the young machinist did some reading, built a workshop behind his father’s cabinet shop and set off on what would become the four-decades-and-counting story of Miles Fiberglass & Composites.
Today, the fiberglass product manufacturing company employs 95 people — up from 54 in 2005 — at its Portland and Clackamas facilities. The firm produces component parts for recreational vehicles and railroad cars, equipment covers, storage tanks and custom products. It counts among its past and present clients Microsoft, Freightliner and Dark Horse Comics.
MFC saw sales in 2006 rise 263% over those of 2005.
GROWTH STRATEGY: In lieu of a traditional sales force, Miles says his family and a few senior staff members drive new sales by conveying the personal touches embodied in a typical family-owned business.
Diversifying markets hasn’t hurt, either. The company for years focused almost entirely on the RV business. Although lucrative and steady, the single-market approach had its limitations.
Over the past few years, the company has branched into light and heavy rail, military products and other markets.
“We decided to real-ly look at diversifying what we do and go after other markets,” Miles says. “Our strategy has worked and we’re going to continue using it.”
REVENUE STOKER: Diversification is also what’s driving MFC’s revenue of late.
For example, Miles says expanding into the heavy rail market — MFC produces parts for refrigeration cars — has provided “considerable business.” So, too, has MFC’s EnviroLube product, a drive-through service bay for the likes of truck-servicing facilities and car dealerships. MFC touts its fiberglass EnviroLube as a quicker, more cost-effective and environmentally sound alternative to traditional concrete bays.
GROWING PAINS: Accommodating the growth that MFC has experienced hasn’t been easy.
Miles says there are always challenges when adding new employees and shifts to cover increased orders. The company also has had to work closely with its bank and suppliers to keep on top of its cash flow; taking inventory for some of its new markets has taken extra effort.
“We’ve had to build ahead,” Miles says, “but so far we’ve worked through those without a lot of problems.”
THE SECRET: The secret to MFC’s success, according to Miles, is really no secret.
“It’s just having a good family group that works together,” he says, “and having good management people who we feel are part of the family. It’s treating those folks right and treating the employees on the floor right so they’re willing to get in and get the job done.”
ON THE HORIZON: Looking ahead, Miles says MFC will continue its focus on existing markets while also expanding the EnviroLube line. In addition, MFC is in the process of installing equipment to enter the field of vacuum-formed thermoplastics, a more efficient option for some of MFC’s component parts.
“We’re looking for good, substantial growth this year,” Miles says, “and for years to come.”
NO. 1 SMALL COMPANY
Tri-Star Search & Staffing
Like many industries, the recruiting and staffing sector took a dive after Sept. 11, 2001.
“Recruiters were dropping like crazy,” says Rudi Bellinazzo, who at the time worked for a specialized staffing service. “There was probably a 50% hit in recruiters leaving the industry. It was a tough marketplace.”
You’d think that starting your own staffing service during such instability might not be the best idea.
But that’s just what Bellinazzo did back in 2002, and today his company, Tri-Star Search & Staffing, is growing strong.
“I felt I could do it better,” says Bellinazzo, “so I took the jump and it’s worked out.”
Tri-Star specializes in recruiting and staffing temporary, contract and direct-hire employees for businesses. Its areas of specialty include accounting, finance, information technology and engineering.
The Tigard company’s 2006 sales were up 150% over 2005’s numbers, and it also tripled its workforce in 2006 to 15 employees.
GROWTH STRATEGY: For Bellinazzo, the key to solid growth is hiring qualified staff with industry experience. A glance at Tri-Star’s roster finds 30-plus years of combined experience in accounting, an engineering veteran of 15 years and several IT specialists.
“I have always said that the people in this company will actually be the ones to make it happen,” says Bellinazzo.
He also says that solidifying infrastructure — Tri-Star moved from a 1,500-square-foot space into its own, larger building last year — and working to be more vertically integrated are part of the company’s strategy for growth.
REVENUE STOKER: Demand for talented IT professionals has helped power Tri-Star’s recent revenue bulge. “That was a division we had played around with,” Bellinazzo says, “but it just kind of took off last year.”
In addition, adding more staff members has allowed Tri-Star to expand its coverage and garner a larger chunk of market share in Oregon and beyond. The company not only recruits workers for firms locally, but it’s also done virtual recruiting around the country.
GROWING PAINS: Although Bellinazzo’s gamble to start Tri-Star in 2002 paid off, he says that, like building any small company, it’s not been easy.
Along the way, the company outgrew its space, which posed its own problems. As Tri-Star’s client database grew, the structure supporting it didn’t keep pace, so the company has had to upgrade its management software.
THE SECRET: Tri-Star’s secret to success has been having a good strategy executed by a good team. Bellinazzo evokes a sporting metaphor of a cohesive team playing a game — to win.
“We’ve been successful because we’ve got a strong team that collaborates,” he says. “Now we are poised to make our strategic objectives come to reality.”
ON THE HORIZON: Plowing through 2007, Bellinazzo says Tri-Star is looking to expand its national presence. The company will add another 10 employees within six months, and it may open a second office in Seattle.
He says Tri-Star will continue to focus on diversity and long-term client relationships, which is just “all part of growing up.”