Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: One of Oregon’s most successful private companies in recent years, Integra Telecom, is on the verge of changing hands under less than ideal circumstances. A front-page story about a sharp increase in “distressed takeovers” in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reported that Integra is being forced to turn over ownership to Tennenbaum Capital Partners LLC following a barrage of “hardball tactics” deployed by the debtholder.
In the story, Integra CEO Dudley Slater is quoted as saying, “Life is always better when you have options and in this case, we didn’t have any options.”
That’s bad news for Integra, which earned $684 million in revenues last year and employs 2,300 people including 550 in Oregon. Companies that get taken over by private equity firms don’t always suffer massive job cuts shortly thereafter, but it comes as no surprise when they do.
(UPDATE, 3:50 PM: I just got a call from John Nee, VP for corporate communications for Integra, and he assured me that the impending change of ownership is actually a good thing since it will cut Integra's debt in half. "This positions us for substantial growth once the economy turns around," he says. I hope he's right, as do the 550 people who work for Integra in Portland. Nee also pointed out that Integra's largest shareholder is Warburg Pincus of New York, so it's not a matter of losing local control.)
On to the good news. Seven Oregon businesses have made Inc. magazine’s 500 fastest growing private companies list: Monsoon Inc. (#478), Fortis Construction (#453), Smarsh (#275), Nova USA Wood Products (#190), G5 Search Marketing (#146), ID Experts Corp (#32) and ProKarma Inc. (#11).
None of these companies employs huge numbers of people, but they are all bucking the trend by hiring, in some cases doubling or even tripling their job counts over the past year or two. They are also focused on where the economy is going rather than where it has been. Portland-area software firms Monsoon, Smarsh and ID Experts have tapped into important new markets for online retail, email archiving and identity theft protection. Fortis has made a bundle building server farms for tech giants. Bend-based G5 is snapping up new clients by proving it can make Internet advertising work. G5 CEO Dan Hobin told me this morning that he expects to make the Inc 500 list again next year after doubling revenues in 2009 and adding more than a dozen employees along the way. “It’s hard to get deals done in this economy, but we’re getting them done, and we’re going to keep getting them done,” Hobin says.
That's the spirit.
One disappointing detail from the Inc. 500: Not one of Oregon’s numerous green innovators made the list. That may change over the next few years. One company worth keeping your eye on is Shorepower, a developer of truck stop electricity systems that was launched in New York in 2005 but has transferred its operations to Portland partly because of the green-friendly business climate here. Shorepower only employs five people currently, but it recently won a $22.2 million federal grant in collaboration with Canby-based nonprofit Cascade Sierra Solutions that is expected to create 962 jobs building a national network of electrified parking slots for truckers. These plug-in areas will allow truckers who would normally keep their big diesels churning, polluting the air and wasting fuel, to shut their rigs off without losing the heat, air conditioning, video and music systems they’ve come to rely on.
If Shorepower proves itself on this huge job, it won’t be an obscure company for long. And the opportunity is there: the previous industry leader, IdleAire, recently went bankrupt, partly because it was spending 10 times as much per installation as Shorepower does. That leaves Shorepower with options. And as the man said, life is always better when you have options.