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Adapting brings success to Fredericksburg's ILM Corporation
Opportunity is when hard work and luck collide. No one knows this better than Jason Cohen, President of ILM Corporation, a Fredericksburg, Va., company that provides document data entry, scanning, indexing and clerical services to large corporations, banks, universities and federal agencies.
ILM has experienced many ups and downs since Cohen’s father founded the company in Jamaica in 1976 with two other partners and entrepreneurial support from Cohen’s mother. In 1978, ILM relocated to Fredericksburg, establishing a sales office that supported the Jamaican data entry operation. The business eventually grew to 600 employees in multiple offices.
Cohen joined the family business after graduating from Old Dominion University in 1991 and entered into a difficult phase of the company’s history. By the end of the decade the bottom fell out on the industry due to a seismic shift in technology and work place attitudes. The company was reduced to six employees with one office and the Jamaican operation was closed.
Learning from past mistakes, Cohen bought the business in 2001 and rebuilt it using a different business model, taking advantage of technological advances, outsourcing and a changing workforce. Seizing upon Fredericksburg’s central location and close proximity to Washington, D.C., he shifted its focus toward federal contracts.
Cohen gained extensive expertise in the government contracting arena through his certification in SBA’s 8(a) business development program. Recognized as leading expert in document conversion and management, he expanded his private sector client base with federal agencies, including Homeland Security, the State Department, Department of Defense, Social Security and NASA, among many others. As he approached graduation from the 8(a) program in 2012, he again repositioned the company by relocating its office to Fredericksburg’s newly designated city-wide SBA HUBZone, becoming its first HUBZone certified firm.
Despite the company’s contracting success, Cohen faced more obstacles after expanding too fast into a new document shredding venture. A high overhead led to heavy debt which ultimately impacted the core document scanning business due to decreased investment in sales and marketing. After several years of declining sales, Cohen sold the document shredding business and restructured two major contracts to strengthen cash flow and once again turned around the company. Since 2005, ILM’s sales have increased more than threefold, reaching $2.6 million with 29 employees in 2011.
ILM launched the economic revitalization of a key business district in downtown Fredericksburg when it relocated to the city’s new HUBZone last year. Utilizing a SBA 504 loan in collaboration with local real estate and Technology Zone tax credits and a façade improvement grant, Cohen redeveloped a dormant service station into a modern office space.
Cohen has been active in numerous business organizations throughout his career, including Rotary, the Fredericksburg Technology Council, The Association of Work Process Improvement, Entrepreneurs Organization, the Association of Imaging and Information Management, the Fredericksburg Triathlon Club and his church. The company has actively supported the Fredericksburg Academy and the Community Foundation.
Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Jason Cohen and ILM Corporation have faced adversity head on and learned many entrepreneurial lessons along the way. Today ILM Corporation is positioned for sustained growth with a seasoned leader who is better prepared to face every challenge ahead.