Stepping in from the patio and a blazingly beautiful, red sunset, one is immediately hit by the smell of success. And a free buffet.
On Sept. 8, members of Pensacola’s business community gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn to celebrate a few local bright spots in an otherwise unremarkable — some might argue, remarkably bleak — economic landscape. Six Gulf Coast companies were being honored for their placement on Inc. Magazine’s 500/5000 list, a celebration of the fastest growing companies in the nation.
Pensacola’s not a bad place to do business. All of tonight’s honorees play with big numbers, enjoying millions in profits. A few of these local companies have made this prestigious list before. One has earned its way onto the hallowed 500 portion of the list.
The lobby of the Hilton sparkled with optimism as attendees mingled before the night’s ceremony. There was an open bar for passing the time until the reception began.
Tiny steak sandwiches, some cheese and a Budweiser. Is that prawn wrapped in bacon? Delicious.
It’s a nice scene. There’s plenty to celebrate. At a time of such economic stress, there are some anomalies. And a few of those anomalies live here.
The good-times clamor was almost enough to drown out President Barack Obama’s jobs-speech as he addressed Congress and the nation on the television above the lobby bar. A man in a classic-car themed, Hawaiian-styled shirt flipped around the channels to find a ballgame to no avail.
With federal estimates putting the August national unemployment rate at 9.1 percent, the speech was a real bummer. But about the time the President wrestled his address to a close, the Inc. 500/5000 reception got underway.
“Everybody wants to get out of here before the Saints play, right?” Rob Williams, of News Radio 1620, opened the night’s reception.
The Inc. 500/5000 list is a celebration of American success. A half-dozen such success stories are being written along the Gulf Coast.
Businesses making the list inevitably contribute directly and indirectly to the communities where they are based. Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce President Jim Hizer noted that people behind such ventures have the luxury of locating themselves where ever they please.
“And you’re here,” Hizer told the recipients before awards were handed out.
Logging in at number 3,870 on the list, software-solutions company Bit Wizards is enjoying its third time on the Inc. 500/5000. The Fort Walton Beach company has experienced 36 percent growth over the past three years and made $2.1 million dollars in 2010.
“Our goal is 300% growth for 2012,” CEO Louis Erickson told those gathered at the Hilton.
Pensacola company Avalex Technologies Corporation came in at number 3,742. The business manufactures technological components for the military market. Over the past three years it has grown 41 percent. Last year’s revenue totaled $12.9 million.
Avalex CEO Tad Ihns thanked those in attendance for the award ceremony, as well as the local community. He said the local support for his business was key to its success.
“Without that support we couldn’t have done what we do,” Ihns said.
Another Pensacola company, IMS Expert Services, came in at 3,348. After seeing 55 percent growth over the past three years, the company made $18.6 million in 2010.
IMS locates experts and consultants on various subject matters for litigation and business purposes. The local company employs 42 people and has made the 500/5000 list for the past four years. CEO Mike Wein said his company had been “very fortunate in Pensacola to grow” and offered some words of encouragement for others in the business community.
“We can do this,” Wein said. “This is what it’s all about, guys.”
Across the bay bridge in Gulf Breeze, AppRiver scored big, placing at 1,815 on the list. The web-security company is also making its fifth appearance on 500/5000.
The company has grown 145 percent over the past three years and in 2010 logged an impressive $27.9 million in revenue. Founded in 2002, the company employees 134 workers.
Global Business Solutions, Inc., came in at number 1,513. The Pensacola company provides business process engineering, technology integration and IT training. It has grown 183 percent over the past three years, and made $5.1 million dollars in 2010.
Teresa Ramos took an opportunity to thank the company’s employees on behalf of her and husband Randy Ramos. The company employees 66 people.
“There is no way we could have done this and planned this on our own,” she said. “God has blessed us with the greatest people. These are the people that allow Randy and I to just work 12 and 14-hour days.”
The fastest growing local business in the area is H2 Performance Consulting. The Pensacola company came in at number 322, with a whopping 1025 percent growth over the past three years. This is H2’s second year on the list.
The management and technology consulting firm made $2.7 million in 2010. While that’s impressive, Managing Partner and CEO Hazel Wiggington — one of the two H’s, along with Holly Smith — took advantage of her moment in the spotlight to call attention to a world beyond the night’s wine and cheese.
“Not to be a downer,” Wiggington said, before reminding attendees of the weak economy, fires ravaging Texas and “last month was the biggest casualty loss we’ve suffered in Afghanistan.”
“There’s just so much more going on in the world,” Wiggington said after accepting her company’s award as the fastest growing local business.
Upon handing out the last of the awards, local businessman and Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Collier Merrill thanked attendees for their interest in the local business community.
“The growth that’s happening in Pensacola — it’s because of y’all,” Merrill said before bringing the ceremony to a close. “Go Saints!”