We asked our readers to nominate their favorites in a range of categories: innovation, family businesses with the most august histories, the coolest office spaces — and more — for our inaugural Innovation, Distinction, Excellence, and Achievement — or IDEA — Awards. Soon, our inbox was flooded with people proclaiming their leader, charitable-giving program, and innovations were tops. Now, after much deliberation, we are ready to reveal the best of the best in our six diverse categories celebrating all the South Sound has to offer.
Best Office Space
WINNER: Dillanos Coffee Roasters
When Dillanos Coffee Roasters found itself bursting at the seams at its former Sumner headquarters, brothers and co-owners David Morris and Chris Heyer turned their sights to the 110,000-square-foot building they owned across
At the time, the building was being leased by REI. But when the outdoor retailer left, Morris and Heyer took the opportunity to convert the building into a mixed-use warehouse and retail space.
With so much open space, Heyer explained, “We were able to (start) with a clean slate and do everything exactly how we wanted to do it.” Dillanos designed its midcentury-modern-inspired settings with two types of customers in mind. While the roaster works extensively with wholesale clients, it also receives a surprising amount of foot traffic, considering its industrial-zone locale. By creating a beautiful retail space for its whole bean coffee and apparel, Dillanos satisfies its walk-in customers while providing wholesalers with ideas for product displays.
“We consider our building to be a 3D brochure,” Heyer said. “We want the whole thing to be very cohesive from room to room, and for it to be clean and inviting.”
Dillanos’ employees and wholesale customers also take advantage of the building’s test kitchen and training areas. Several in-house espresso machines allow multiple barista trainings to take place at once. Upstairs, 13,000 square feet of office space are divided between a partially open floor plan and private rooms for meetings
The building’s layout was largely designed by Carissa Hermsmeyer, Dillanos’ executive strategic plan manager, who took up the project with no formal contracting experience.
For Morris and Heyer, the new building is a reflection of the company’s growth and direction.
“We really feel like it was an evolution of our brand, and it was a very timeless look and feel,” Heyer said. And with plenty of room to grow into, the space is designed to sustain the company’s ambitions to scale.
“We’re going to do a little over $30 million this year,” Morris said, “And our goal in 10 years is $100 million. We built our space to accommodate that.”
By 2015, Teeter was outgrowing the former Puyallup dental office it had operated in for the last two decades. The fitness-manufacturing company got to work designing a dream space — a 202,000-square-foot concrete tilt-up in Bonney Lake. CEO Chris Leier explained, “Our goal was to build a bigger building that could house our growing company, and also create spaces that allow the team to interact together on a regular basis.” The new headquarters boasts many bells and whistles. These include 18,000 square feet of office space with stunning views of Mount Rainier, along with a full gym and a tennis court.
FINALIST: Middle of Six
For a year and a half, Middle of Six was operated from owner Wendy Simmons’ home office. The search for a more permanent space led the marketing firm to a charming downtown Tacoma studio. With large street-facing windows and a back door courtyard, “The space had good bones,” Simmons recalled. Meanwhile, she drew upon 15 years in the design industry to transform its interior, a feat she accomplished in just three weeks. “Everything is movable, so for parties and different kinds of presentations, we can reconfigure the space,” Simmons explained. The studio’s flexible configuration, wall-to-wall chalkboards, bright furnishings, and abundance of natural light bolster her team’s creativity and inspire collaborative conversation.
Manufacturing Firm of the Year
WINNER: Bellmont Cabinet Co.
There are many reasons Bellmont Cabinet Co. could be honored.
There are the strict environmental stewardship standards to which the Sumner-based frameless cabinet manufacturer holds itself accountable. Or the sustainable materials and processes it uses. Or its mission to be responsible stewards of the community. Or even its state-of-the-art, 185,000-square-foot manufacturing facility staffed by more than 300 skilled workers.
And then there are the cabinets themselves: artfully crafted frameless cabinets that are built to order and are the makings of just about anyone’s dream kitchen.
But, as nominator Carmen Palmer puts it, the reason Bellmont is such an inspirational manufacturer is that, “They are the true tale of manufacturing success and growth.”
As the communications director for the City of Sumner for the last 13 years, Palmer has gotten to know Bellmont CEO Steve Bell and will tell the tale of the company’s beginnings to whomever she can.
In the mid-1980s, 28-year-old Bell was performing tenant-improvement work and building kitchen cabinets out of his home garage when he got a grim call from his attorney. The man on the other end of the phone told Bell to grab a copy of the day’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
On the front page was the story of an FBI sting operation that netted two individuals for whom Bell had been contracting.
“They owed us about $100,000 and we owed nearly all of that money to everyone else — suppliers and subcontractors and employees,” Bell candidly revealed in a video on the company’s website. “We just lost it all.”
Bell’s attorney and accountant readied him for the onslaught of lawsuits that would inevitably come out of the literal woodwork. But Bell dug in his heels and resisted his advisers urging him to file for bankruptcy.
“I said, ‘I know it doesn’t look good. I don’t know how, and I don’t know where, but if it takes the rest of my life, I’m going to pay these people back,’” Bell recalled.
Through personal letters and in-person visits, Bell said he was able to stave off any lawsuits and, after six and a half years, pay off all his debts with interest. He credits his ability to do so to his decision to, in 1986, pivot from contracting work to manufacturing frameless cabinets.
In 2004, with his debts paid and business booming, Bell moved Bellmont to Sumner and set up the company’s current operations in a new facility with more than 300 employees.
“Today, Bellmont is a leader in the cabinet industry,” Palmer wrote. “And it is a leader in what it means to grow a home business to something spectacular.”
FINALIST: McFarland Cascade
Every day, we drive by them on rural streets. We affix yard sale fliers and lost-dog announcements upon them. We might even lean on them while waiting for a crosswalk signal. But we never stop and ask who actually makes the giant poles that support our electrical utility and telecommunications lines. If we did, the answer might be Tacoma-based McFarland Cascade. Since 1974, this manufacturer has specialized in these and other pressure-treated wood products. Each day, McFarland Cascade’s staff of more than 200 produces half a million feet of sawn lumber, which is treated in giant pressure-cooker-like structures. The bulk of the manufacturer’s products ships by rail and truck throughout the United States and Canada, while approximately 20 percent travels to foreign locales.
FINALIST: Tool Gauge
Founded by the late George Lackermayer in 1966, this South Tacoma-based manufacturer got its start as a small tool and die shop before eventually pivoting toward the aerospace industry more than three decades ago. Today, a passenger can’t step on a commercial airplane without seeing one of the many small plastic and metal items manufactured by Tool Gauge. Handicap-assist handles in lavatories; galley cart bumper guides; cabin stowage bins; ventilation grills; wing-mounted fuel and hydraulic line clamp assemblies; and components for fuel doors, landing gear, and engine mounts are just a few items in the company’s robust catalog.
Legacy Business of the Year
WINNER: Sunset Air
Behind this legacy company are the bones of a typical startup success story: A husband and wife start a company out of their garage, business flourishes.
In this case, the year was 1976, the couple was Peter and Kathy Fluetsch, and the business was heating and air-conditioning.
Today, Sunset Air employs approximately 200 during its busy seasons — summer and winter — and specializes in electrical, doors, windows, and water heaters in addition to the typical heating and air-conditioning services one might expect. In short, the Lacey-based business — now run by Peter and Kathy’s son, Brian Fleutsch — does it all.
With the many services Sunset Air offers, energy efficiency and other environmentally friendly practices are front and center. The company has grown alongside the demand for green building in commercial and residential spaces.
“Sunset Air has been auditing and identifying energy opportunities for decades,” Brian Fleutsch said. “Analyzing energy efficiency is a core part of our business, covering both energy upgrades to existing facilities and new construction projects.”
One of the ways Sunset Air has solidified its commitment to the environment has been by becoming an Energy Service Company (ESCO), which, Brian explained, is “a commercial business providing a broad range of energy solutions from design and implementation to retrofitting and
ESCO status requires a rigorous process to obtain; once secured, however, it gives select companies like Sunset Air exclusive access to work on facilities owned by the state — think government buildings and schools.
“Technology advancements around energy conservation are an ever-changing landscape,” he said. “For us, it is very exciting to continue to learn and apply these new products to deliver energy-saving solutions where they were once not available.”
Buildings that Sunset Air has been proud to service locally include the new science building at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, the YMCA in Tacoma, and Capital High School in Olympia. The company also installed solar panels at the Olympia Farmers Market in 2011.
“We are proud to be one of only 13 ESCOs for the entire state of Washington,” Brian added. “We are looking forward to many years of providing energy savings, comfort, and ultimately producing carbon reductions in publicly owned facilities.”
FINALIST: South Tacoma Glass
Since 1986, South Tacoma Glass has installed windows, auto glass, windshields, safety glass, and more. The company also cuts custom-sized glass for anything its customers might need it for, including equipment, tabletops, mirrors, shower doors, picture windows, and patio doors. South Tacoma Glass services cities throughout the region from Seattle to Lacey, with several projects in Eastern Washington, as well. Its quality is well known: It is one of five companies in the area to be rated top in quality and price by Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook.
FINALIST: Watson’s Nursery
What started as Dan Watson’s backyard hobby in 1974 is now a beloved three-generation family business. Maidee Watson, CEO, grew up in the business, watching her father sell plants from the driveway and ultimately helping her mother, Fran, open a more official retail site in 1984. Watson’s sister, Terri Elliott, has run the gift side of the business since 1993. Today, Maidee Watson’s three sons and Elliott’s daughter are involved in everything from business technology manager to serving as COO.
Leader of the Year
WINNER: Hadley Robbins
Joining Columbia Bank in 2013 with a wealth of banking experience, Hadley Robbins rose from senior vice president to executive vice president and chief operating officer, before being named CEO and president in July 2017.
Columbia Bank had a record year in terms of net income and loan production in 2018, and has continued to experience growth in 2019 under his stewardship. Robbins announced his plan to retire at the end of 2019, ending what projects to be 10 consecutive successful fiscal quarters as CEO and more than 40 years in banking.
“What I’ve valued the most during my career at Columbia Bank has been the people,” Robbins said. “The people of Columbia Bank have made coming to work every day for the last seven years immensely rewarding. We’ve shown that you can build a prosperous financial institution and join together to make a difference.”
Robbins was recently chair of the South Sound Heart and Stroke Walk and formerly chair of Oregon Bankers Association. He also serves on the boards for the MultiCare Health Foundation and the Pacific Coast Bankers School.
“Under his guidance, we closed our largest acquisition and have grown into one of the most successful banks in the Northwest,” Craig Eerkes, chairman of Columbia’s board of directors, wrote in a statement. “Hadley has served the Northwest banking industry and community well throughout his career.”
Robbins held several senior-level banking positions before joining Columbia, including executive vice president and chief credit officer of West Coast Bancorp, and senior management positions at Wells Fargo and Pacific Northwest Bank. Robbins holds an MBA from the University of Oregon and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Lewis and Clark College.
“I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with the most talented and dedicated group of bankers and professionals in the industry,” Robbins said. “From their unmatched level of service and strategic counsel toward clients, to their passion and energy in making our community an even better place.”
FINALIST: Jackie Flowers
Jackie Flowers was appointed director of utilities at Tacoma Public Utilities in 2018 after a unanimous vote from the TPU board. Managing a City of Tacoma division that employs more than 1,400 individuals and provides electricity and water service to more than 200,000 residents is no small feat. In her first year as director, Flowers established a culture of trust, innovation, and high-quality work, according to TPU Communications Manager Rebekah Anderson. “She kicked off a listening tour, meeting with hundreds of community members and staff to learn what they needed from their utility,” Anderson remembered. “She quickly become a well-respected leader with Tacoma City Council and (within) the community TPU serves.”
FINALIST: Paul Sandhu
After a successful 20-year track record in the hospitality industry, operating and developing hotels in Washington, Paul Sandhu co-founded HeadChimp this year, a commercial property cloud platform for streamlining employee communication, time tracking, work orders, and customer/tenant engagement. Sandhu still owns and operates the Holiday Inn at the Tacoma Mall, making $8 million worth of renovations to the units, restaurant and lounge, and hotel exterior last year, earning the hotel a Holiday Inn Renovation of the Year award from its parent company and a certificate of excellence from tripadvisor.com
Most Innovative Company
WINNER: A Drop in the Ocean
A Drop in the Ocean is more than a company — it’s a movement.
Krystina Jarvis founded the Tacoma-based, zero-waste store and blog committed to creating a sustainable future for all living things. And when you shop at A Drop in the Ocean, you feel as if you are taking part in something good. Each purchase supports a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the planet. A percentage of annual sales supports an ocean-conservation organization in Baja, California, and every purchase goes toward planting 10 trees through an organization working in sub-Saharan Africa.
“I think it’s really important for people to understand that you don’t have to do everything. And you especially don’t have to do everything all at once,” Jarvis said.
And, it turns out, change can be as simple as an everyday piece of silverware: the humble fork. Jarvis said when she first encountered the idea of zero-waste living through a BuzzFeed video, she wanted to start immediately.
Shortly after this decision, she and some co-workers were going to meet for their usual Friday lunch. Knowing that the restaurant offered only plastic utensils, she grabbed a metal fork and headed out the door. Her friends were surprised to see her pull a fork out of her bag, and asked what she was up to.
She told them about the video, how it impacted her, and how she wanted to live a zero-waste life. And just like that — the conversation moved on. But the story doesn’t end there. A couple of lunch meetups later, she wasn’t the only one toting silverware from home — the whole group pulled reusable utensils out of their bags.
This story is a perfect example of what this business she’s brought to Tacoma is all about. Jarvis is relatively new to the Tacoma area; she moved here from Columbus, Ohio, last December.
But she said there’s nowhere else she would rather be doing this work.
“When I finally decided to pull the trigger and start the shop, there was never a doubt in my mind that it was going to be anywhere but Tacoma,” she said
FINALIST: Tacoma RV
Tacoma RV is innovative in a simple, yet profound way: customer service at the highest standard. Instead of being hassled by commission-seeking salespeople, customers at Tacoma RV will find only professionals offering superior service. It’s what this female-owned business has been doing since 1987. And it’s how what started as a small dealership has grown into the No. 1 volume-selling dealership in the state. If that isn’t enough, Tacoma RV goes the extra mile after the sale is made by hosting a free customer appreciation campout each year.
FINALIST: Aero Precision
At Aero Precision, that common saying “Nobody’s perfect” just isn’t true. It goes against the company’s goal of technical perfection. The staff oversees every aspect of the development, design, and machining process for each of the firearm accessories it produces. The company prides itself on its commitment to sparing no expense on utilizing state-of-the-art equipment to ensure each product is the best it can be. Its firearm products are nationally recognized by members of the military and law enforcement community.
WINNER: The Russell Family Foundation
Puget Sound communities and ecosystems, particularly in the South Sound, have benefited from millions of dollars in grants distributed by The Russell Family Foundation since its formation 20 years ago.
Endowed with $130 million in 1999 by Tacoma’s Russell family upon the sale of its financial services business, the foundation has distributed grants totaling $135 million since, said foundation CEO Richard Woo, citing the foundation’s ability to give and grow.
Today, foundation assets total about $145 million, he said.
“We’ve managed to do this, particularly in the last dozen-plus years, with a high focus on impact investing, which is the notion that you can do well financially by doing good with your investments,” Woo said of better aligning investments with an organization’s mission. “That’s an emerging area of investment practice in the field and we’ve been very involved in actually experimenting, learning, sharing our lessons learned with the wider philanthropic community.”
The foundation has aligned 82 percent of its investments with its social mission, using its investments to drive change beyond grant-making, Woo said.
The Gig Harbor-based foundation focuses its giving on environmental sustainability, grassroots leadership, and global peace. Under environmental sustainability, there’s a particular focus on the waters of Puget Sound and environmental education, he said.
Many of the foundation’s efforts are focused in Tacoma, elsewhere in Pierce County, and South Sound, where the Russell family established and built its business, Woo said. The business, launched as Frank Russell Co. in 1936 in Tacoma as a brokerage firm, is today a subsidiary of the London Stock Exchange (LSEG). LSEG acquired the firm in 2014 from Northwestern Mutual Insurance, but later sold off its investment division as Russell Investments to TA Associates in 2015.
Supporting global peace and the local Pierce County community are passions of George F. Russell Jr., Frank’s grandson and former company CEO. Global peace work included a 2018 grant to Splash, a Seattle nonprofit focused on providing clean drinking water in developing countries, particularly in orphanages and schools, Woo said. The link? If people struggle with survival, it creates stresses that can lead to conflict — underscoring the relationship of the foundation’s interest in water, peace, and global community.
A foundation effort focused in Pierce County is Jane’s Fellowship Program, named after George’s late wife. The leadership-development program is for grassroots community leaders working to support their local neighborhoods and communities on issues like education, homelessness, and food security. The program helps the leaders build their network of other leaders they can lean on to improve area communities, Woo said.
FINALIST: Valley Cities Behavioral Health Care
Valley Cities Behavioral Health Care provided inpatient and outpatient mental and behavioral health services to approximately 18,000 lower-income individuals in 2018, triple the number served five years earlier. Drivers for that include people seeking substance use disorder treatment, increasing awareness, and destigmatizing of mental and behavioral healthcare, said Sundeep Malhi, development manager for the Federal Way-based nonprofit. It treats people of all ages and also offers veterans and homeless outreach services, and housing programs across a dozen locations. More people understand “it’s OK to not be OK,” and to seek help, Malhi said, emphasizing Valley Cities’ focus on compassionate care.
FINALIST: Golden Services, LLC
Golden Services LLC, a moving, storage, and port services company based in Lakewood, uses its trucks for more than business: offering free delivery to regional food banks of food donated at events or from customers emptying their pantries before moving. Golden Services is affiliated with Move For Hunger, a national nonprofit working with moving companies nationwide to get food where it’s needed most. “It’s important to us to make sure that we take care of our community,” said Holly Downey, CEO of Golden Services. Other causes include Wreaths Across America, helping transport holiday wreaths for placement at veterans’ Washington grave sites each December.