Staying Alive

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2007

Our “Top Companies” feature offers you a clear snapshot of the local economy right now. Associate editor Hannah Wallace started collecting information for this feature in the fall, canvassing the region’s largest companies (a company has to gross at least $20 million in sales to qualify) and asking them to report this year’s revenues. Fewer were willing to do that than in previous years, and our hunch is that many were reluctant to reveal declining sales. When companies didn’t self report, we used alternative financial sources to estimate their sales. (All estimates are marked as such in the story.) Ultimately, eight fewer companies qualified than last year, and the remaining companies collectively made $1.6 billion less in total revenues. These hard, bottom-line numbers only tell part of the picture, though; beyond them is the colder reality of layoffs and tightened household and consumer spending—which affects us all.

But not all is doom and gloom. The tourism, healthcare and manufacturing sectors fared well, and we found a practical, upward-and-onward attitude among plenty of businesses. For example, Al Bavry, the CEO for building supplier Kimal Lumber, whose company saw a 50 percent decrease in revenues as well as in employees in 2007, was anything but a pessimist. He told Hannah that he’s taken his company into the “green” construction niche, and he sees this new business climate as an opportunity to prove Kimal’s resilience.

That same attitude was also prevalent among the four long-term businesses we profiled in our story, “Survivors,” and it underlines why I enjoy editing a business magazine in our region. I spoke to the owners of all of these companies, and came away impressed with how smart and enterprising they all are. Each company is a small business that operates with small margins, and every one of them has fought through the ups and downs of the decades to grow their businesses and serve their customers. They work hard for themselves—being in charge of your own future tends to make you do that—but just as important to them are their employees and their customers. They’ve learned how to watch every penny; and most of them, so far, have held on to their staffs and their optimism. As Alison Bishop, owner of Living Walls, told us: “Focus on every customer who comes in the door. It’s easy to give up and not make the phone call or push anything because you think nobody’s going to buy. Stay positive.”

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