The messages were consistent, whether they were a first-time winner in the “Inc. 5000” listing of America’s fastest growing companies, or a 12-time listee like KaTom Restaurant Supply Inc.
During a “Innov865 Week” event hosted Thursday evening by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC), 10 of the 14 area companies that made the latest listing said their greatest challenge going forward is an adequate workforce and the greatest benefits from the recognition are the pride that their employees feel along with ways that it helps secure new business.
KEC Chairman Brandon Bruce moderated two panels with four of the first-timers and six of the alums.
- Those in the first group were Karen Coffey of Karen Coffey Coaching, Robert Hall of Ole Smoky Distillery (Gatlinburg), Geoff Yearack of RCN Technologies, and Janet Livingston of ONE Business Solutions in Seymour.
- Returnees were KaTom, represented this year by Charlie Bible; Harry Boston of Boston Government Services; Ken Baer of K&P Enterprises; Jason Murrell of Arsenal Strength; Dennis Rowe of Priority Ambulance; and Jenna Johns of RDI Technologies Inc.
For Livingston, it was not her first “Inc. 5000” recognition, although it was the first with ONE Business Solutions that relocated to Seymour from the Bay Area. She has been part of previous companies that were recognized four times.
Like her colleagues, whether first-time recipients or previous winners, workforce is a major challenge. Livingston said part of the reason for moving here was an expectation that finding good talent would not be an issue. It is, however, for the company that has about 100 employees.
That challenge was echoed by Hall who said the 10-year old, fast-growing distillery – three locations in Sevier County and a fourth in Music City – has about 600 employees. For the third Sevier County company among this year’s local “Inc. 5000” listees – KaTom, the challenge is the same. “We have trouble staffing to our growth,” Bible said.
All participants agreed that being on the “Inc. 5000” list was a real bonus for their employees and an asset in both business development and employee recruitment and retention, the latter emphasized by Rowe. “It gives you a credibility marker,” he said. “Employees see a growing company.”
For Ole Smoky Distillery, Hall said the biggest impact was “pride for the employees . . . getting national recognition. People feel good about it.” Coffey reiterated that theme, saying “it was an amazing accomplishment for them. Our team has absolutely loved it.”
Livingston noted that “2019 was the worst year in our business history, and we still made it. It’s something for them (employees) to celebrate.” Boston added that “being able to say two years in a row was a big deal.”
From a business development perspective, Bible said making the list early in KaTom’s history “helped to legitimize us,” with Johns saying something very similar: “It sends the message to markets that you are growing exponentially.”
In the case of K&P Enterprises, Baer said the recognition helped the company, a subcontractor for Home Depot, secure business with Sam’s Club under the K&P Enterprises brand. The new opportunity is in support of 39 Sam’s Club stores.