Last year the local free-market economy was a very good year.
Our annual Top 100 privately-owned companies in Whatcom County topped $4,927,600,000 in sales during 2016 – the highest total since this survey began over 20 years ago. That represents about $900 million more than 2016’s Top 100.
In the past this listing of privately-owned companies also encompassed three other counties Skagit, Island, and San Juan). When we reorganized and formed the Whatcom Business Alliance in 2012, we narrowed the search for entries to Whatcom County only.
Considering some other businesses in the county that we couldn’t officially verify, but have seen their sales figures printed elsewhere, the highest producers in the local free market push through the $5 billion milestone and provide in the neighborhood of 20,000 jobs.
In an unexplainable 180-turnaround from last year, while sales figures rose substantially in our listings, employment figures dipped. That’s a sign of the times, most likely, in the age of automation ranging everywhere from berry-and-dairy farming to fast-food kiosks to robotics.
For the fourth straight year the Alpha Group stood No. 1, reflecting about a 15 percent jump in sales to more than $750 million. They provide power solutions globally for broadband, telecommunications, and renewable energy with headquarters near the Bellingham International Airport entrance.
Haggen, the perennial No. 1 for many years, surged back into the No. 2 position, citing outstanding support for local management and the Northwest Fresh brand from their new owners, Albertson’s.
We introduce 10 new companies to the Top 100 this year: Axiom, Hollander Investments, SPIE, Yorkston Oil, DeWaard & Bode, Brim Tractor, Woodstock International, Morse Distribution, Seeking Health, Bellingham Yacht Sales. A few dropped off either because they moved or sold outside the county, or did not report/confirm their sales.
Three of the top six companies reflect the most obvious major trend from 2016, the continuously flourishing construction industry, including contractors and subcontractors.
Excel Pacific at No. 3, showed more than 10 percent increase to $300+ million. No. 4 Dawson and No. 6 IMCO also reported major gains year-over-year.
Others sprinkled throughout the Top 100: Diamond B, Haskell, Roosendahl-Honcoop, ALRT, Skeers, Faber, Western Refinery Services, Brooks, Moncrieff, Strider, and Tiger, plus numerous contracted support companies in sheet metal and other specialities.
Another trend on the list, changes – ownership, company leadership, and brand.
Haggen operates independently still, but under the Albertson group. Wilson Motors, upon longtime owner Rick Wilson’s retirement, sold to a large dealership, though Julian Greening remained top exec under the new name Toyota/Mercedes Benz of Bellingham.
At Seafood Producers Cooperative, Tom McLaughlin retired and they brought in Joe Morelli as new CEO with a long background in management at three other companies. Specified Fittings reorganized under its holding company, North Star, and elevated former minority owner Tom Franzen to CEO; he’s been with the company more than 20 years in operations.
DIS at No. 64 sold to a company out of the county, so our listing this year is based on its 2016 results under now-retired owner Randy McIntyre; they will not be listed going forward.
And WBA board member Janelle Bruland’s growing company Management Services Northwest that has appeared on the list several years changed its brand; its official name is now MSNW.
Also in trending, for the second straight post-recession year the fluctuating prices in sectors such as oil and gas, milk and other food products, and the deflated Canadian dollar continued a 2015 downturn of restricting growth in trade, retail, and travel sectors.
The robust economic upturn overall pushed the minimum starting point on our list to $7 million for the first time, which included 101 companies, with another 15 we know to qualify (though unconfirmed by their management).
You can read a featured cover article in this edition about Axiom, an industrial metal firm that incorporates two other companies under its $40 million umbrella, and a profile of Bellingham Yacht Sales.
As always, to go on the list a company must (a.) operate its headquarters in Whatcom County and (b.) under private ownership. We compile the list by contacting everybody on it the previous year, through personal contacts, discovery in reporting for Business Pulse, new members in the WBA, and public inquiry through our communications resources that includes a newsletter list in excess of 4,000.
To see who made the list, click the Business Pulse Magazine Digital issue below!