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November 15, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Celebration of Inc. 5000 honorees focuses on what makes Knoxville great

People, adaptability, and communication top the listing of most important things to consider.

Tuesday night’s “Growth & Grit” event was both a celebration of local enterprises that made the latest listing of the fastest-growing private companies in the Knoxville area and a reminder of what makes the region so special.

Organized by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC), the discussion was moderated by Chris McAdoo, KEC’s Director of Strategy and Engagement, who was joined by Harry Boston, Founder and President of Boston Government Services, a four-time listee on the Inc. 5000 rankings.

After making brief comments and using Knoxville’s reputation as The Maker City to illustrate the region’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, Boston asked a series of question. What makes Knoxville best? What can we do to make it even better? What can we do to collaborate more? How do we get more investors? What can we do next?

Then, representatives of the honorees were asked their thoughts, and the consensus response was people and how they are treated. A close second might be described as doing more to communicate the region’s assets.

Axle Logistics

“We take care of our people,” said Zach Walton, General Manager of Axle Logistics. He was employee #12 at the company that was ranked #847 on the latest Inc. 5000 list with a 698 percent three-year growth rate. Founded in 2012, the company now has more than 500 employees and will add another 200 to 250 in the next year or so.

“We give our people a lot of autonomy,” Walton added. “I’m from Nashville; my wife is from Nashville, but we’ll never go back. I love this city.”

Boston added that Boston Government Services, which he recently sold, emphasized the importance of creating an environment where each person felt valued.

Both Ron Feinbaum, a Partner and Head of Growth Markets at Boldsquare (#3586), talked about the importance of better communicating what makes Knoxville special. “We live in the shadow of Nashville. We need to better tell our story,” he said.

Ron Feinbaum, Boldsquare

The longest running local company on the list is 15-year honoree KaTom Restaurant Supply which placed #4,091 in the 2023 rankings with a growth rate of 111 percent. The Kodak-based company has grown to $500 million in revenue.

As Charlie Bible, KaTom’s Vice President of Operations noted, leaders have to shift their mindset as their companies grow. “You have to understand what your customer needs and also your competition,” he said’ “You also have to have great people.”

Bible said he had lived in four cities, including Greenville, SC, and the Palmetto State community has a strategy. “Let’s get a good plan and go execute on it,” he urged.

The newest Chief Executive Officer in the room was Patrick Hunt of Smartria which ranked #2118. As noted in this article from earlier this week, the announcement was made last week, and Hunt gave credit to Founder Roger Kiger, who was in the room, and Mac Bartine, his predecessor.

Drawing on his past experiences, he said an important success factor for any growing enterprise is the ability to adapt to change.

Other Knoxville area honorees were:

Kaylee Wilson, Avero Advisors

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