‘Inner City 100’ honors list of fastest-growing urban companies
Ten Massachusetts firms were named to the list
Ten Massachusetts firms, headquartered in Boston, Lawrence, Lowell and Worcester, were named to the 2013 “Inner City 100” list unveiled recently by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC). The list recognizes the fastest-growing companies located in urban cores across the United States. This year’s awardees were honored at the Inner City 100 Symposium and Awards in Boston last month.
ICIC, a Boston nonprofit research and strategy organization, believes that doing business in the inner city gives a distinct competitive advantage, reaping benefits for the company such as proximity to clients and access to a local workforce, while adding vitality and jobs to economically distressed urban areas.
One of this year’s winners was Pinck & Co., a Boston construction management consulting firm that, since its start in 1998, has managed over $2 billion in construction projects, including The Brewery Small Business Complex in Jamaica Plain, City Year headquarters in the South End and Boston Collegiate Charter School in Dorchester.
“From a vibrancy standpoint, the city needs the [business] activity. In order to attract people to the city, you have to have opportunities for them in the city.” — Howard Nunes
Founder Jennifer Pinck said the firm’s location on Magazine Street in Roxbury is key for her business.
“When we moved here, 50 to 60 percent of our clients were within a mile of us,” she said. “And it’s very close to the Inspectional Services Department, where you go for permits, so that’s an advantage to our clients.” And unlike some downtown locations, Pinck & Co.’s still-gritty neighborhood provides easy parking and relatively low rent.
Pinck, who started out in the building trades herself in the 1970s, said she contributes to the local economy by helping contractors hire local subcontractors and by purchasing locally.
“I’m a Boston business. I live in Boston, and half my staff lives in Boston,” she said. “So if I’m looking for services, I try to support Boston businesses — and they’ve supported me.”
Companies benefit from an urban location — and provide benefit to local residents — in different ways.
Howard Nunes, CEO of PepperDash Technology, said his company’s Allston location provides an easy commute for his staff of graphic designers, programmers, project coordinators and salespeople, whether they drive from the suburbs or walk from homes in Allston or Brighton. Though many of the clients for PepperDash’s complex electronic systems are large firms along Routes 128 or 495, being in Boston is good for PepperDash and for the city, Nunes said.
“From a vibrancy standpoint, the city needs the [business] activity,” he said. “In order to attract people to the city, you have to have opportunities for them in the city.”
The ICIC survey found that 65 percent of the companies consider their inner city location an advantage in recruiting, and 42 percent indicated they make an outreach effort to “disadvantaged” potential employees. And these companies do create jobs. This year’s winners employ a total of 10,391 people and generated 5,863 jobs in 2007–2011, the five-year period ICIC examined for this year’s list. Thirty-seven percent of employees are minorities and 48 percent are “inner city residents,” according to the survey.
Minority and female ownership is higher among the Inner City 100 than the national norms. Of this year’s winners, 35 percent are minority-owned, while nationally, 21 percent of all companies are headed by minorities, according to ICIC. And woman-owned firms make up 28 percent of the winners, while only 10 percent of companies with over $1 million in annual revenues are woman-owned nationally.
Nina Brown and Clarissa Rowe founded their Boston landscape architecture and urban design firm in 1981 to create a better workplace for women who wanted to have both children and rewarding careers.
“It’s hard to believe, but 30 years ago people would tell us you couldn’t have any responsibilities on the job if you have children; you had to do one or the other,” said Brown.
Their company, Brown, Richardson + Rowe Inc., has grown to a mostly female staff of 12. They worked from a church basement and then on Congress Street before moving to Post Office Square in downtown Boston. A city location was important, Brown said, to take advantage of public transit and to be taken seriously as designers of urban parks. Their work includes Boston projects such as the East Boston Greenway, Constitution Beach and Spectacle Island, as well as park projects in the state’s midsize “gateway cities” such as Lowell and Holyoke.
To qualify for the Inner City 100, firms must have at least 10 full-time employees and a five-year operating history that includes at least $200,000 in revenues in the first year of consideration and fifth-year sales of at least $1 million. More than half of their operations must be located in an urban area that is “economically distressed,” meaning it has 50 percent higher unemployment, 50 percent higher poverty level, and 50 percent lower median income than its broader metropolitan area.
This year’s winners came from 48 cities in 27 states. Boston, with seven companies on the list, was second only to Chicago; Massachusetts ranked fourth, behind California, Illinois and Texas.
Other Massachusetts companies on the 2013 Inner City 100 list are Fennick McCredie Architecture of Boston; travel shipping company Luggage Forward of Boston; corporate asset recovery company The Locator Services Group of Boston; CrunchTime! Information Systems of Boston, which provides enterprise reporting tools for restaurants; minority-owned construction and environmental remediation company RM Technologies of Lawrence; TANTARA of Worcester, a construction and environmental remediation company; and environmental and civil engineering firm Watermark of Lowell.
The winning CEOs who spoke with the Banner offered simple words of advice for business success: Know your product. Get an accountant if you don’t have a business background. Find a community bank who knows you as people and will understand when you have cash flow problems. Try for every award you can win. Keep networking. Be honest about what you can do, and do it well.
“It’s not magic at all,” said Nunes. “What’s different about us is we finish our jobs. That’s basic quality. People don’t mind paying more for quality. It takes a lot of time for a business to recover from an unhappy client.”
And, of course, it helps to enjoy what you do.
Pinck recalls the satisfaction of helping the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation develop the last stages of the Brewery complex. “I was always interested in repurposing older buildings,” she said. “And to see something like that add so much life to an area — it feels good.”