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Andrew Wells III, President and CEO of Wells Technology based in Bemidji, Minn., has been named the Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The Small Business Person of the year is selected annually based on growth in sales or unit volume, increase in the number of employees, financial strength, innovativeness of product or service and evidence of contributions to community-oriented projects. Sherri Komrosky, Program Director of the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), nominated Wells for this award.
Andy Wells is a member of the Red Lake Ojibwa Tribe and still maintains his family farm on the Red Lake Reservation. Andy graduated with a Master of Science degree from Bemidji State University in 1969 and spent 17 years teaching in public schools and universities. During this time, he authored several text books on electronics and received U.S. patents on 7 new products. From 1986 to 1989, Andy served as an Automation Consultant to Control Data Corporation in Minneapolis. In 1989, Andy began Wells Technology with an investment of $1,300 to manufacture industrial tools and fasteners for customers while also creating jobs for economically disadvantaged people. To serve the Native American people of Northern Minnesota, the Wells Technology facility was located between the three reservations of Red Lake, Leech Lake, and White Earth. In 1994, Andy began precision manufacturing with CNC machining equipment and BAE Systems was one of the first major aerospace companies to begin doing business with Wells Technology. As the business grew in the early years, Wells Technology worked with the MMSDC, SBA, and PTAC agencies to obtain the certifications of SDB, 8(a), HUB Zone, and MBE.
In 2004, Andy realized he needed management training to grow the company beyond 14 employees. Therefore, he worked with the Fastenal Company to develop an SBA-approved mentor-protégé agreement. With mentoring from Fastenal, Wells Technology developed a growth strategy by expanding manufacturing and beginning national distribution of industrial supplies. As business grew through 2008, Wells Technology had added many new jobs for a total of 32 employees.
However, new jobs required industrial skills that Native American people did not have. Therefore, in 2006, Andy began using profits to invest in the Native American people by creating Wells Academy, a 501c3 non-profit school for industrial training. This is an apprentice program which respects Native American cultural values while providing marketable technical skills and achieves a 92% retention rate.
Andy also supports his community through his roles on several local and state boards, community councils, economic development efforts, and as a mentor to other entrepreneurs. In 2007, Andy received the “Entrepreneur of the Year” award from the Metropolitan Economic Development Commission which is located in Minneapolis. Then, in 2008, Andy received the “American Indian Business of the Year” from the National Center for American Indian Economic Development which represents all 560 tribes in America. Andy believes that success in life also brings a responsibility to be significant by doing good things to help other people.
What kind of personalities would take on the challenge of starting a company to manufacture a ‘good economy’ product in the midst of an economic recession, in the eastern part of the country, which automatically ensures higher distribution costs? Meet Tom Sturtevant and Trapper Clark.
Tom had built and sold several successful companies in the past, while Trapper knew all there was to know about the manufacturing of aluminum trailers. Together, they founded ALCOM Inc. out of a facility in Waterville, Maine and began to change the face of the North America’s aluminum trailer industry. Beginning with a core of 20 local employees in 2006, ALCOM began producing some of the forward thinking designs that Trapper was coming up with in the field of snow trailers. While many Maine companies never achieve annual sales of 2 million dollars, ALCOM crossed that threshold in its inaugural year. Their employee roster grew to over 55 employees by the fall of 2009, and with the relocation to their newly constructed 70,000 square foot facility in Winslow, Maine, their employment base immediately grew to 85; and based on projected sales over the next 24 months they hope to add a total of 40 new employees. Revenues increased 245% in 2007 and then bumped up another 65% in 2008. At the height of the recession, ALCOM was experiencing 2009 sales growth in excess of 25%, year over year. Sales for the first five months of 2010 showed an increase of about 60%.
Meanwhile, in an effort to expand their market outside of New England, ALCOM first devised a way to minimize freight costs to dealers so that they would not be paying for shipment from Maine, but from Indiana, where most other trailer manufacturers were located. Their ability to create this solution increased unit sales. Today, a strong relationship with Bill’s Auto Transport, a Maine trucking company, allows ALCOM to ship to the west coast affordably.
The story of ALCOM goes beyond just running a successful business. They employ Maine workers and support their local and Maine economy. They also contribute unselfishly to faith-based organizations and families in need. Tom and Trapper contribute thousands of dollars a year to charities and helped support nine families in Haiti even before the earthquake highlighted the needs of that country. Tom and Trapper share complementing talents along with a focused vision and a commitment to giving back – knowing that true success is attributable to many.
Lillian Pernell started L.E. Pernell & Associates as a sole proprietorship. Her initial product line consisted of management consulting services in areas that Ms. Pernell had personally garnered specific experience while working in different industry situations. Office automation, business application, electric data interchange, and funds transfer were several of her areas of expertise in which her clients expressed an interest.
As is often the case with start-up businesses in general and fledgling consulting enterprises in particular, success is incumbent upon building a revenue base sufficient to maintain business continuity and cover fixed costs as quickly as possible. In 1995, the company’s revenues were slightly below $70,000 and the health of the company was seriously in question. In short, Ms. Pernell needed help.
She had heard about the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and its Business Development Program referred to as the 8(a) Program, intended to help socially and economically disadvantaged business owners compete in the Federal Procurement Marketplace. The SBA’s 8(a) program assists these firms in gaining equal access to the resources necessary to develop their business and thereby, improve their ability to compete on an equal basis in the mainstream of the economy.
Lillian Pernell understood that the 8(a) program helped federal government agencies locate qualified firms to perform government contracts and earn a profit. She saw this scenario as a way to resuscitate her company and felt positive that she could benefit from the symbiosis such a working relationship would create.
She applied to the SBA’s Los Angeles District Office for admission into the 8(a) Program and was approved in July 1996. Lillian was assigned a Business Opportunity Specialist (BOS) to advocate for her with respect to program goals. The BOS is also well versed in business finance, operational matters, and serves as a management consultant to aid the participant during her tenure in the program.
The most important function of an SBA BOS is to create the most fertile environment, within which the participant firm can draw sustenance from the program resources to nourish and grow the business. Despite the appearance of a”safety net” being provided, the firm itself is duly responsible for program outcomes. To be successful, she must take the initiative to access all program components applicable to her particular business, including self-marketing and networking. In short, she must remain committed to live and work the program.
And “work the program” is what Lillian most certainly did. Under the enlightened managerial expertise of the SBA 8(a) team, she found the resources and the direction for her business’s future. Lillian changed the company structure to a corporate entity and underwent a strategic business evaluation and resource redeployment. This involved blending into her business mix opportunities that became available as a result of her 8(a) participation. The study concluded that by shifting focus to auditing single family loan files for compliance with FHA guidelines, the company would establish a competitive niche within which to operate and generate future growth. As a result of the switch, she secured a number of 8(a) and non-8(a) contracts with (HUD) to audit that Agency’s single family loans.
Lillian Pernell’s ability to stay the course and remain focused on her plan has paid handsome dividends for her business. Her annual revenues have grown 25 fold with concomitant profitability and cash flow. Access to additional contracts continues to be extremely promising. Even more significant is the fact that her entrepreneurial spirit has forged and trained a valuable cadre of professionals to insure the future wellbeing of the firm. To her credit Lillian Pernell created 16 jobs through her enterprising endeavors, an accomplishment of which she will forever be proud.
Los Angeles SBA District Director Alberto G. Alvarado praised her accomplishments stating, “Lillian Pernell’s success relates not only to her hard work but to her flexibility within the marketplace. She availed herself of all applicable SBA 8(a) resources and worked the program to her advantage. Lillian has earned the rewards of her initiative.”
L.E. Pernell & Associates, Inc. is located at 13017 Artesia Blvd., Suite 104, Cerritos, CA 90703. The business telephone number is (562) 483-8161 and the Fax is (562) 483-8163. Ms. Pernell can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the SBA Los Angeles District Office for information on 8(a) Business Development call:
- Armida Brother at (818) 552-3233
- Catherine Clark at (818) 552-3311
- Betsy Copelan at (818) 552-3313
- Bonita Rentie at (818) 552-3310
- Carlos Johnson at (818) 552-3232
Or visit the SBA’s user friendly web site at www.sba.gov.