GRANITE FALLS — The owners of Cobalt Enterprises this week were named Washington’s Small Business Persons of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Fred Schule, owner and president, and Paul Clark, owner and vice president, will be honored at an event May 8 at the Future of Flight Museum.
They will also be in contention for the national honor also announced in May in Washington, D.C.
In 2004, Schule started Cobalt Enterprises out of his garage with his younger brother and two computerized mills. Since then, annual sales have grown 26 fold to about $10 million this year, with the business making parts for the aerospace, defense, commercial and medical industries.
Cobalt now employs 80 people and is the largest private employer in Granite Falls.
Schule, who has been in manufacturing ever since graduating from high school, decided to open his own business after his former company, Lowell Group, went under in 2004.
Schule, who had worked his way up to general manager-vice president, learned valuable lessons during those years, including some things not to do in manufacturing.
“Sometimes that’s more important than what to do,” Schule said.
As the company expanded, Schule met Clark through a banking relationship. Clark, who has a formal business background, started with the company in 2011.
The company, which was nominated for the award by Banner Bank, has obtained several SBA-guaranteed loans during the past decade as it grew to expand its capacity, finance a second building and support international trade.
“Fred and Paul embody the entrepreneurial attributes of adaptability, ingenuity and community-mindedness needed to thrive in an unpredictable market,” said Nancy Porzio, SBA Seattle district director, in a statement.
Cobalt is a member of the Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce and has been active in the community. Working with Granite Falls High School, Cobalt participates in the Crossroads project where the company employs teenagers who are troubled or struggling with school.
Through this program, Cobalt has hired more than 25 teenagers over the years.
“About half of them are still with us,” Schule said. “Others have gone to the military to school and to other things.”
Each year since 1963, the president has issued a proclamation calling for the celebration of National Small Business Week with the SBA recognizing outstanding small business owners for their personal successes and contributions to the country.