Downtown and loving it

The rebirth of Cleveland is well chronicled. New football and baseball stadiums and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame helped breathe new life into a stagnant city.

But without the strength and influx of business to support those institutions, the renaissance would have been short lived.

This year, eight Cleveland enterprises were recognized by Inc. magazine and the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City as part of the Inner City 100, the fastest growing privately held businesses in inner city America. This is the list’s second year, and three Cleveland companies — Thermagon (No. 7), Complete Payroll Management (No. 57) and ColorMatrix (No. 69) make a return appearance.

The highest-ranked Cleveland area venture, Thermagon, had 1998 revenues of $7.88 million and 2,050 percent sales growth from 1994 to 1998. CPM posted revenues of $15.2 million and a 227 percent increase in sales growth during the same period.

“The first time, it’s hard; the second time around, it’s always harder, so we’re real honored to receive the recognition,” says Jay Lucarelli, president of CPM. “We feel proud of the fact that we’re a positive representative for the city of Cleveland.”

Making the list for the first time this year was Warren Associates Office Furniture at No. 22, with $7.16 million in sales, 653 percent sales growth and 66 percent compound annual growth (1994-1998), not bad in an industry that averages between 3 and 5 percent annual growth.

“When you’re growing that fast, you’re taking it from other entities in the marketplace,” says Dick Warren, owner of the 6-year-old company. “It’s a nice honor to receive.”

Warren Associates Office Furniture is located near the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 32nd Street. Why locate downtown?

“It’s very centrally located to highways,” Warren says. “We have to service East, West and South. It’s got a relative cost that’s very affordable.”

Also, the availability of public transportation and affordable parking make it easier for his 20 employees, he says.

Inc. spoke with Cleveland Mayor Michael White, along with the mayors of Chicago, Denver and Austin, Texas, as part of its story. Lucarelli gives White much of the credit for the city’s success, saying he’s has been a catalyst, moving other people to action.

“He’s done a lot as far as the resurgence of the whole city,” Lucarelli says. “You can’t have resurgence without economic and job growth. He’s put a lot of effort into that.”

In the magazine, White is quoted as saying, “We are creating an environment in which businesspeople want to invest money in the neighborhoods and start and expand businesses there. But you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to city redevelopment. Our strategies are not static. We learn from every investment.”

Other Cleveland companies making their inaugural appearance on the list are Cleveland Medical Devices (No. 34), $1.34 million in revenue, 357 percent sales growth; Seibert Powder Coatings (No. 47), $37.24 million in revenue, 273 percent sales growth; Rysar Properties (No. 52), revenue of $11.72 million, 237 percent sales growth; and Stripmatic Products (No. 92), revenue of $4.4 million with 111 percent sales growth.

Daniel G. Jacobs ([email protected]) is senior editor of SBN.

A snapshot of Inner City 100 companies

  • Percentage of CEOs who rate their location as good or excellent: 92

  • Percentage who are looking to expand their current sites: 72

  • Percentage of Inner City 100 employees who reside in the inner city: 41

  • Percentage of CEOs who live in or have lived in the inner city: 70

  • Average Inner City 100 hourly wage (excluding benefits): $12.83, 150 percent above federal minimum wage

  • Average national private sector hourly wage: $12.77

  • Average compound annual growth rate from 1994 to 1998: 50 percent

  • Average five-year sales growth: 742 percent

  • Average 1998 sales: $12,227,579

  • Median 1998 sales: $4,660,460

  • Average number of employees: 71

  • Median number of employees: 42

  • Top competitive advantages as cited by CEOs: proximity to customers and highways; availability and diversity of labor force

  • Top competitive disadvantages: perception of crime, cost of security systems