Companies to Watch

Eight Northern Indiana companies with bright futures.
by Steve Kaelble

When they were handing out invitations to the recent economic downturn, these eight companies apparently didn't open their mail. They're Northern Indiana's members of the 2012 class of Companies to Watch, and they've been bucking the trends and building bright futures.

Indiana's Companies to Watch were chosen by experts the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the Indiana Small Business Development Center and the Edward Lowe Foundation. The 2012 list includes 25 privately owned companies that are beyond startup and are demonstrating strong, sustainable growth. As a group, they increased revenue by an average of 19 percent every year from 2008 to 2011, and grew their total employee count by 16 percent annually. They expect to add another 28 percent in sales this year, and boost employment by 16 percent.

Read on to learn more about the Companies to Watch from the northern tier of the state.

Agdia Inc., Elkhart
As the world's population grows, the agricultural sector needs to continually boost production. One key to meeting that goal is protecting crops from destructive pathogens, and that's the business of Elkhart-based Agdia. The company develops and manufactures testing kits that help find pathogens among commercial crops, and it is always looking to improve the process.

Its ImmunoStrip products, for example, work in the field with single seeds or leaves and return results in five minutes or less. Its DNA amplification platform can discover pathogens that are highly destructive to citrus crops–samples sent to its lab can be processed in a couple of days. All of its products and technologies shave days or even weeks off of the time it used to take to test for pathogens. That's good not just for agricultural businesses but also for those trying to keep pathogens away at the borders and ports.

Agdia, led by Baziel Vrient as president, was founded in 1981, and employs more than 50 people today. The company is planning a new 50,000-square-foot facility in Elkhart County; construction begins next spring.

Anthony Travel, Notre Dame
Anthony Travel may be a neighbor of the University of Notre Dame, but its employees cheer on a long list of sports teams. The travel management company handles the complicated arrangements of shuttling college teams from place to place–as well as those teams' diehard fans.

That can be a challenging job. Consider that players, coaches and staff have very precise travel needs, and yet they also need flexibility. If a rainout means extending a stay, Anthony must make the travel work. If students need to be back in time for semester finals, it's up to Anthony to come through. The company also books special trips when teams go to bowl games, and it lines up global excursions for alumni.

The client list is amazing–Notre Dame, of course, but also Indiana and Purdue universities, Duke, Miami, North Carolina, Georgetown, UCLA and USC, to name a few. John Anthony is president and CEO of the company, founded in 1989. It has about 150 employees and expects revenue growth as high as 20 percent this year.

BriMar Wood Innovations, Goshen
An economic downturn would not seem to be a great time to be selling commercial furniture, but BriMar certainly has not been deterred. Its revenues were $2.4 million in 2009, $2.8 million the next year, and should be about $5.2 million by the time 2012 winds down, according to the company's president and CEO, Brian Roe. The company has been recognized in the Inc. 500/5000 for the past four years and is spotlighted regularly in Wood & Wood Products' annual Wood 100 ranking (it was listed as No. 1 in 2009, in fact).

“We have a firm conviction of always trying to stay ahead of the trends, by driving product diversity through niche markets, finishes, materials and design,” Roe says. “This allows us to succeed in a wide range of areas, so we are not so affected by a downturn in just one area.”

Founded in 2004, the company benefits from a strong network of suppliers in Indiana and across the Midwest, Roe says, adding that the Indiana work ethic is powerful. “There simply is no shortage of dedicated, hardworking people in our community whom we are proud to call employees. They serve as the backbone of our flexibility and success in providing our customers exactly what they are looking for.”

ENS Group, Fort Wayne
We're in the Information Age, and Fort Wayne's ENS Group is all about managing and protecting digital information–data centers, managed services, network technologies, strategic consulting and training. It's been a solid recipe for growth, according to the company's president, Tim Savage. “ENS has grown from 17 employees at the end 2009 to 43 employees today. Our revenue for 2009 was $3.2 million, and it is over $8 million today.”

Creating that kind of growth means keeping up with the hottest needs. A decade and a half ago, it meant working with Microsoft in order to serve what clients were seeking. More recently, it has meant helping clients get a handle on cloud technology. What will it be five years from now? Savage keeps the prognostication general: “We expect ENS Group to continue to grow and expand our service offerings and provide more advanced technologies. Our approach to technology services differentiates us from similar technology companies, accelerating our growth.”

Indiana has been a good place to grow, he adds–for his company directly, and for client companies that grow and then need more of the services ENS provides. “The attractive tax rates and low cost of living, plus incentives for companies to grow, have provided an ever-expanding customer base for our services. The great business climate in Indiana has allowed our clients and potential clients to prosper.”

FDC Graphic Films, South Bend
“FDC has expanded by offering services that can't be met by other competitors,” says George Marsh, vice president and general manager of FDC Graphic Films. The South Bend company provides the materials used to create banners, vinyl signs, decals and other types of signage.

The company's customers are distributors and sign companies that create eye-popping signage quickly, and they need quick access to highly specific types of materials. That's where FDC shines, Marsh says. “Orders ship same-day until 5; they come here for the service. Graphic and sign companies have little inventory themselves.”

FDC ships vinyl in hundreds of sizes, shapes and colors, and its Indiana location is an asset. “We reach 22 states or more in two days or less,” Marsh says. The company's wide-ranging products and speedy service have translated into double-digit top-line growth in recent years, and FDC expects that to continue on into next year, too. FDC was founded in 1988, and cofounder Judith Eck serves as president and CEO.

PullRite, Mishawaka
If you've ever pulled a trailer, you know how tricky and potentially dangerous it can be. PullRite has found the solution to be a better hitch. Its innovations in 5th-wheel, short-bed truck and travel-trailer hitches are seen as pioneering technologies that reduce sway and make driving safer and more comfortable.

The Mishawaka-based company was launched in 1978, and Randall Pulliam is president. PullRite prides itself on maintaining American manufacturing, and in fact is the last remaining 5th-wheel hitch maker in the country.

Sailrite Enterprises, Columbia City
This Columbia City company is what it sounds like, but a whole lot more. Sailrite makes sails, including 150-square-foot beauties that help propel boats as long as 52 feet. But it has found a tremendous market for all kinds of other fabric-related needs, too–for awnings, flags and furniture (including for boat seating but also for indoor furniture and other needs). Sailrite sells sewing machines, too, including ultra-high-end machines for industrial work, and it provides everything from grommets to needles and thread. And back on the boat, the company can also ship everything from GPS systems to sunglasses.

Sailrite is no newcomer, in business since 1969, but it has found the present day to be full of opportunity. “Sales growth has been roughly 20 to 25 percent each year for the last four years,” says Matt Grant, co-owner with Hallie Grant. “I would like to see Sailrite continue to grow by at least 15 percent yearly. My personal goal is to continue to hire ambitious and talented individuals to expand Sailrite's product lines and to provide the best of service to our customers.”

Treadstone LLC, South Bend
Some people think environmentalism and capitalism don't mix well, but Treadstone would beg to differ. The company wouldn't be in business without the concept of recycling, as it shreds forklift tires to create rubber mulch. The product is very much in demand, and creating it has diverted millions of pounds of tires from landfills in Indiana and elsewhere.

According to the company's president, Mark Sanderson, Treadstone really has a handle on the best way to shred a tire to create the highest quality mulch–it sounds simple enough, but it's really not, and the details are secret. One key, though, is using only solid rubber industrial tires, which unlike travel tires don't contain metal such as steel belts. The company has also perfected the process of creating different colors of mulch, such as white or sand, in addition to black. Revenue was up 24 percent last year and could rise another 30 percent this year. The biggest challenge, according to Sanderson, is keeping up with the incredible demand.

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