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Torch Technologies at Entrepreneur’s Topmost Tier

Torch Technologies President and CEO John Watson, at company headquarters in Huntsville. Photo by Dennis Keim

Entrepreneur magazine in October named three Alabama companies to its annual listing of the 360 top companies “mastering the art and science of growing a business.”

Huntsville-based systems engineer Torch Technologies is placed #8 on the Entrepreneur 360 list for 2019. At #29 is R2C Inc., a Huntsville engineer certified as a Service Disabled-Veteran Owned Small Business, and #270 is Fairhope-based Altaworx LLC, a Voice over Internet Protocol business telephone systems operator that operates in the BellSouth Business Partner Program.

Torch Technologies, an employee-owned company working primarily in the defense and aerospace sectors, was ranked by Entrepreneur #11 in 2018 and #16 in 2017.

The magazine says it evaluated companies based on 50-plus data points organized into five categories: revenue and customers, management efficiency, innovation, financial evaluation and business valuation.

Torch Technologies was featured in “Defense Contractor Attains Employee-Owned Propulsion,” in our most recent focus on privately owned companies, in the July issue of Business Alabama.

Alabama’s Fastest Growing Inc. Roster 2019

Torch Technologies President and CEO John Watson, at company headquarters in Huntsville. Photo by Dennis Keim

Inc.’s annual guide to the 5,000 fastest growing privately held companies in the U.S. released the 2019 ranking in mid-August. Alabama headquartered companies were well represented on the listing.

Huntsville, by far, had the most companies listed, at 25, with Birmingham coming in second, with 15 companies.

Of those highlighted, Torch Technologies has appeared on the Inc. 5000 listing the most, at 13 consecutive years, followed closely by Hargrove Engineers + Constructors, at 12 times on the listing and nLogic, appearing 10 times. Business Alabama featured Torch Technologies in the July issue.

Companies on the 2019 listing were ranked according to percentage of revenue growth from 2015 to 2018. To qualify, companies must have been founded and generating revenue by March 31, 2015. They must be U.S.-based, privately held, for-profit and independent — not subsidiaries or divisions of other companies — as of December 31, 2018. The minimum revenue required for 2015 is $100,000; the minimum for 2018 is $2 million. Growth rates used to determine company rankings were calculated to three decimal places.

The following is the list of Alabama headquartered companies making the ranking:

#55 Dropified, in Birmingham, had $5.1 million in revenue and a growth rate of 4,971%. It is a business products and services company.

#116 5 Star Roofing and Restoration, a construction company in Birmingham, had $3.3 million in revenue and a growth rate of 2,994%.

#286 Southern Veterinary Partners, of Birmingham, had $113.5 million in revenue and a growth rate of 1,545%.

#306 Symbol Health Solutions, of Mobile, had $76.9 million in revenue and a growth rate of 1,472%.

#336 Liberty Rent Guarantee, a real estate company in Fairhope, had $2.2 million in revenue and a growth rate of 1,386%.

#617 Cintel, a government services company of Huntsville, had $2.9 million in revenue and a growth rate of 711%.

#727 Crossflow Technologies, an engineering company in Huntsville, had $2.9 million in revenue and a growth rate of 603%.

#876 B&B Beverage Management, of Auburn, had $2.7 million in revenue and a growth rate of 486%.

#897 Fast Slow Motion, an IT system developer in Birmingham, had $3.5 million in revenue and a growth rate of 473%.

#927 Kord Technologies, of Huntsville, had $70.1 million in revenue and a growth rate of 458%. It is in Government Services.

#942 Freedom Real Estate, of Huntsville, had $3.7 million in revenue and a growth rate of 451%.

#1179 Shearer, of Huntsville, had $6.4 million in revenue and a growth rate of 352%. It is an engineering company that has been on the listing seven times.

#1308 Jennaration Boutique, a retail company in Tuscaloosa, had $3.1 million in revenue and a growth rate of 315%.

#1379 Advanced Technological Solutions, an IT systems developer of Prattville, had $3.6 million in revenue and a growth rate of 300%.

#1408 Matt Curtis Real Estate, of Madison, had $5.2 million in revenue and a growth rate of 293%.

#1435 3-GIS, of Decatur, had $21.2 million in revenue and a growth rate of 288%. It is an engineering company that has appeared on the listing five times.

#1460 Fulcrum Construction Group, of Daphne, had $48.4 million in revenue and a growth rate of 284%.

#1538 WaveFly Powered by JMF Solutions, a telecommunications company of Daphne, had $7.6 million in revenue and a growth rate of 269%.

#1553 Cortina Solutions, a government solutions company of Huntsville, had $2.7 million in revenue and a growth rate of 267%.

#1591 MartinFederal, a government services company of Huntsville, had $16.9 million in revenue and a growth rate of 258%.

#1651 R2C, of Huntsville, had $5 million in revenue and a growth rate of 249%. It is in government services.

#1655 Corporate Tax Advisors, a financial services firm in Huntsville, had $3.2 million in revenue and a growth rate of 248%.

#1720 Wilson Shaw Information Technology, an IT management company in Montgomery, had $3.6 million in revenue and a growth rate of 237%.

#1802 Altaworx, a telecommunications company in Fairhope, had $7.7 million in revenue and a growth rate of 226%.

#1911 StrategyWise, of Birmingham, had $2.2 million and a growth rate of 210%. It is in business products and services.

#2077 Spartan Value Investors, of Birmingham, had $25.7 million and a growth rate of 194%. It is a real estate company that has been on the listing six times.

#2079 Chicken Salad Chick, of Auburn, had $29.1 million and growth rate of 194%.

#2083 Nou Systems, a government services provider in Huntsville, had 23.2 million and a growth rate of 194%.

#2106 Noetic Strategies, an IT management company in Huntsville, had $4.6 million and a growth rate of 191%.

#2170 Hill Technical Solutions, a government services company of Huntsville, had $9.9 million in revenue and a growth rate of 186%.

#2223 Pinnacle Solutions, of Huntsville, had $61.9 million in revenue and a growth rate of 181%. It is in government services and has appeared on the listing seven times.

#2245 GEM Manufacturing, of Kenosha, had $10 million in revenue and a growth rate of 179%.

#2257 Magnolia River Services, an engineering company in Hartselle, had $63.9 million in revenue and a growth rate of 178%.

#2297 LSINC, a government services firm of Huntsville, had $12.7 million in revenue and a growth rate of 175%.

#2452 IronMountain Solutions, of Huntsville, had $42.1 million in revenue and a growth rate of 162%. It provides government services and has been on the listing seven times.

#2491 Lake Homes Realty, of Hoover, had $14.4 million in revenue and a growth rate of 158%.

$2511 Bell Media, and adverting and marketing firm of Birmingham, had $9.1 million in revenue and a growth rate of 155%. It has appeared on the listing five times.

#2637 Brookstone Restoration, a construction firm in Bessemer, had $6 million in revenue and a growth rate of 148%.

#2818 i3, a government services company of Huntsville, had $69.8 million in revenue and a growth rate of 134%.

#2856 Transportation and Logistical Services, of Birmingham, had $12.8 million in revenue and a growth rate of 131%.

#2872 Mission Driven Research, a government services firm of Huntsville, had $3.4 million in revenue and a 130% growth rate.

#2927 nLogic, of Huntsville, had $48.5 million in revenue and a 128% growth rate. It is a government services provider and has appeared on the listing 10 times.

#2959 Jack Browns Joint, a food and beverage company of Birmingham, had $16.1 million in revenue and a 126% growth rate.

#2961 EngeniusMicro, a government services firm in Huntsville, had $2.9 million in revenue and a 126% growth rate.

#3026 Cummings Creative Group, an advertising and marketing firm of Birmingham, had $6.5 million in revenue and a growth rate of 123%.

#3089 StateServ-Hospicelink, of Birmingham, with $205.5 million in revenue and a growth rate of 120%.

#3242 Simulation Technologies, an engineering company in Huntsville, had $31.6 million in revenue and a growth rate of 112%.

#3323 AccuReg Software, a health provider in Mobile, had $12 million in revenue and a growth rate of 108%.

#3460 Home Health Solutions, of Carbon Hill, had $4 million in revenue and a growth rate of 102%.

#3477 Hargrove Engineers + Constructors, of Mobile, had $355.3 million in revenue and a growth rate of 101%. It is an engineering company that has been on the listing 12 times.

#3493 Persons Services Corp., a construction company in Mobile, had $26.8 million in revenue and a growth rate of 101%.

#3767 Truland Homes, a real estate firm of Spanish Fort, had $97.2 million in revenue and a growth rate of 89%.

#3921 Oakworth Capital Bank, a financial services firm of Birmingham, had $28.2 million in revenue and a growth rate of 84%.

#4005 Starnes Media, of Birmingham, had $4 million in revenue and a growth rate of 81%.

#4046 Bevilacqua Research, of Huntsville, had $52.6 million in revenue and a growth rate of 80%. It is a government services provider that has appeared on the listing eight times.

#4200 Torch Technologies, of Huntsville, had $405.4 million in revenue and a growth rate of 74%. A government services company that has appeared on the listing 13 times.

#4282 Milo’s Tea Co., of Birmingham, had $110.2 million in revenue and a growth rate of 72%.

#4316 Crabtree, Rowe & Berger, a financial services firm of Huntsville, had $4.6 million in revenue and a growth rate of 71%.

#4404 Trideum Corp., of Huntsville, had $27.7 million in revenue and a growth rate of 68%. A government services company, it has appeared on the listing seven times.

#4636 Landscape Workshop, an environmental services company of Birmingham, had $41.7 million in revenue and a growth rate of 62%.

#4824 Fresh Technology, an IT services company of Hoover, had $4.1 million in revenue and a growth rate of 57%.

#4976 Spur, of Huntsville, had $34.9 million in revenue and a growth rate of 53%. It is a human resources firm that has appeared on the listing eight times.

Defense Contractor Attains Employee-Owned Propulsion

Co-founder Bill Roark, President and CEO John Watson and Chief Technology Officer Joe Hill, with the 3D imaging headsets used to view some Torch products. Photos by Dennis Keim

Torch Technologies has ranked among the nation’s fastest growing companies 12 years in a row. It’s recognized as a great place to work and it wins kudos among employee-owned companies.

The reason for the recognition? President and CEO John Watson says it’s in the nature of the business organization itself: They take employee-ownership seriously.

Watson and Torch co-founders Bill Roark and Don Holder had all previously worked for Nichols Research Corp., a large missile defense company in Huntsville that went public in the late 1990s and was later sold. Roark and Holder suddenly found themselves unable to honor commitments made to employees. Much affected by that experience, Roark and Holder began to discuss starting their own company — one that, to avoid a repeat of what had happened to their employees at Nichols, would eventually be entirely employee-owned. In 2002, they created Torch.

“Don was in his mid-sixties when he helped found the company,” Roark recalls, “so we knew he’d be exiting, and we needed a path that would allow us to buy a founder out without having to sell the company.”

In 2005, when they had reached 50 employees, they implemented an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). From that point on, “everyone got a stock option, so they could exercise ownership in the company when that option matured,” says Roark. By 2010, employee ownership of the company had reached 40 percent, and Roark and Holder met their goal of 100 percent employee ownership at the end of 2011.

Torch Technologies President and CEO John Watson, at company headquarters in Huntsville.

Today, Torch is one of the nation’s top 100 defense services companies, and for the most part has seen consistent annual growth of 30-40 percent since its founding. The company expects to generate around $470 million this fiscal year. Based in Huntsville owing to its proximity to U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, Torch has expanded to 15 other locations, including Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Texas, the Marshall Islands and Egypt.

“John came on board in 2009, and one of his first goals was to expand us outside of Huntsville,” says Roark. “I’d say he’s succeeded.”

The company also has evolved from being services-only to offering solutions. To accommodate that transition, Torch broke ground last year on a 45,000-square-foot facility, the Technology, Integration and Prototyping Center.

“We’re doing some novel things in that area,” says Watson, like developing next-generation instrumentation for capturing warhead tests. “We’re also doing a lot of work in obsolescence and re-engineering,” he continues, citing the company’s work on early-warning detection radar systems. Other projects include building repair stations and tech repair manuals for subsystems on the CH-47 Chinook helicopter and developing virtual training products.

“We’re also seeing some opportunities to take some of our defense development technologies outside into the commercial sector,” says Watson. “We’re proud of the platform we’ve built, and we take advantage of that to address more complicated problems that are out there. We’re in a military community, and we take very seriously our mission in terms of providing capabilities to our warfighters and bringing them home safely.”

That dedication extends beyond the company’s professional services; Torch also is deeply committed to community outreach. “We really feel that the cornerstones of our company are, of course, our employee owners and our customers, but the community is part of that, too. If we want to have a healthy workforce, we need to have a healthy community.”

“That’s something our employees take a lot of pride in,” adds Roark.

Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies — 12 years in a row
Washington Technology — Top 100 government contractors
Bloomberg Government — Top 200
Entrepreneur 360 — Ranked #11
Great Places to Work & Fortune — 4 years in a row
Best Workplaces for Millennials — 3 years in a row
ESOP Company of the Year, New South — 2018
Best Places to Work in Huntsville — Listed 5 times

In 2005, the company’s employee owners formed a 501(c)(3) organization, Torch Helps, to support non-profit organizations that assist underserved communities. One requirement: the charity selected to receive the $10,000 grant must operate in the area of a Torch employee’s residence. The program solicits applications quarterly, a Torch Helps committee reviews each application to ensure requirements are met and then provides a list of recommendations to the board of directors. Finally, employees vote on the board’s selections. Torch Technologies covers all of the administrative costs of Torch Helps, ensuring that all donations go directly to the organizations selected by the employees.

“The impact we’ve had on improving things for the warfighter and the soldier, you know, we’re very proud of that,” says Roark. But he points out that Torch doesn’t often get to see those impacts firsthand. “When you see a kid get a scholarship for college because of a local program you’ve funded and [one day] you’re trading emails with him as he’s making the dean’s list — those are the kinds of things that really tug at your heartstrings. And it’s really the employees,” he’s quick to add. “They’ve built the foundation for the company to be able to do that successfully.”

On April 30, Torch Technologies attended the unveiling of the Wounded Warrior-Combat Medic Statue at the Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial, a project it sponsored. Military veterans from the company stood behind the statue during the dedication ceremony.

“The military is very important to us and recognizing and honoring them is very important to us,” says Roark. The company’s name and logo are inspired by the Statue of Liberty, he points out. Their Huntsville facility is called the Freedom Center. “You can’t get lost in terms of trying to figure out what we’re about.”

Katherine MacGilvray and Dennis Keim are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Huntsville.

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