Program cites successful second-stage firms

BELLINGHAM — Western Washington University is launching a new statewide recognition campaign called Washington Companies to Watch to honor outstanding second-stage businesses.

Washington is the seventh state to become associated with the national venture created several years ago by the Edward Lowe Foundation in Michigan. The awards program is designed to publicize, encourage and inspire winning companies. The foundation already works with businesses in Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Indiana and Colorado.

Tom Dorr, director of Western Washington University’s Center for Economic Vitality in Bellingham, believes the watch list should promote and attract community support for second-stage companies that show high performance in the marketplace, an outstanding focus on innovative products or processes, and an overall growth record worth watching.

Nominations of successful second-stage companies can be made now at washington.companiestowatch.org and companies can submit their own nominations beginning April 23, 2012. Official festivities honoring the selected Washington firms will be made at WWU’s annual economic conference Oct. 25, 2012, at the Washington State Convention &Trade Center in Seattle.

Explaining why it’s important to recognize second-stage companies, Dorr said it’s a segment of the business community that is largely ignored but shouldn’t be.

Startup businesses get a lot of recognition, he said, because they’re new, they have a fresh product or service and they usually announce new job openings that boost the local economy.

Successful longtime, top-tier businesses get a lot of recognition, too, because they’re well established in the community, contribute to local fundraising events, have a well-known product or service and employ dozens or hundreds or thousands of workers in their community, Dorr said.

So, who usually gets ignored?

“It’s the successful second-stage businesses that have proven they can be successful long-term, those who employ dozens or even hundreds of employees and often have multiple products or services developed over many years — but rarely get recognition because they’re neither new in the marketplace nor familiar, established pillars of the community,” he said.

Deborah Anderson, formerly vice president of sales and marketing for the South Snohomish County Chamber of Commerce before it became part of the new Economic Alliance Snohomish County, is now the business development manager for the university’s Center for Economic Vitality, part of the university’s College of Business and Economics. She is contacting regional economic development groups about the new program.

Anderson said there are more than 34,000 second-stage companies in the state that represent only eight percent of all businesses yet employ 40 percent of the workforce.

“We’re hoping to create a cooperative partnership where we can reach out to second-stage companies to promote this sector of the economy,” she said. “We’ll be talking to economic development organizations in Snohomish County and across the state.”

She said those who have already “given the nod” to participating in the program include the Economic Development Association of Skagit County, University of Washington-Bothell, Thurston County Chamber of Commerce and a host of other chambers of commerce throughout the state.

A December meeting is set with Economic Alliance Snohomish County and discussions are planned with Enterprise Seattle, Pierce County, Spokane County and Grays Harbor County, among others.

What’s in it for the second-stage companies that will be recognized for their achievements and contributions to local, regional and statewide economies?

Dorr said winning companies will have their success stories publicized in a statewide media campaign to local and state outlets as well as regional media and industry press. Companies could benefit from the attention of banks, venture capitalists and investors, and potential employees would be attracted to the companies.

Also, winning companies’ workforces would likely feel pride from the awards, which include trophies inscribed with each company’s name. Two complimentary tickets will be provided to the awards conference. A Washington Companies to Watch press kit will be provided with information on each winning firm and companies will earn an opportunity to attend an Edward Lowe Foundation leaders retreat with winners from six other states where the program is active.

“Second-stage companies are strong drivers in job creation and economic development,” said Dorr, who has worked with the 24-year-old Center for Economic Vitality for 15 years. “This recognition program will help spread the word in both urban and rural areas of the state about the importance of these firms. We already have a strong network of alliances with chambers of commerce and economic development organizations across the state, which will help us promote this new program.”

Dorr is relying on those organizations to help spread the word about Washington Companies to Watch and also to make nominations of successful companies in their own areas.

On the Web

For more information, go to washington.companiestowatch.org, the Center for Economic Vitality at www.cevforbusiness.com or call Deborah Anderson at 360-733-4014.

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