News

Leader staying ahead of the pack

By CHARLES MELTON

Editor

With many public officials struggling to find ways to encourage economic development throughout Kitsap County, Rick and Cathy Flaherty are the epitome of what it takes to be successful on the national level and while remaining committed to the local economy.

The pair heads Leader International in the Port Orchard Industrial Area and recently moved their operations into a new facility to accommodate the company’s growth and allow for the consolidation of its operations in the local area.

“We’ve been averaging 23 percent growth each year with our lowest being 3 percent and our highest being 63 percent in one year,” Rick Flaherty said.

That comes even at a time when the company sold its health care division in August, Cathy Flaherty pointed out. Even with the sale of that product line, the company’s net number of employees has remained at around 50 employees.

With that above-average growth trend, outsiders might ask why the pair hasn’t decided to move the company outside of an area, which is struggling to create a positive economic atmosphere, the Flahertys remain steadfast in keeping their company in Kitsap County.

“We could go to Michigan, and they would roll out the red carpet for us,” Rick Flaherty said. “But from a business standpoint it costs a lot to move a business.”

The company has great employees, many of whom have worked themselves up through the ranks, and a move would result in the loss of the expertise that already exists here, he said.

“It’s also quality of life, and in Washington state it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth,” he said.

Although the company has attracted attention for its work on the Bremerton marina expansion and the power bollards in particular, Rick Flaherty said contrary to what some people might think nothing was guaranteed when the firm submitted its proposal.

“There were no guarantees that we were going to get anything,” he said.

Bremerton economic development director Gary Sexton asked if the company could come up with something that matched the look of the Bremerton waterfront, Rick Flaherty said.

“When you go into a city you see 72 different looks, but Gary (Sexton) and (Bremerton Mayor) Cary Bozeman wanted the same look and that’s what stuck in my mind,” he said.

The company spent a year and half coming up with three prototypes to present to the Port of Bremerton commissioners for consideration, and fortunately the commissioners OK’d the change order, he said.

“I will tell you that the rule of thumb is when we present an alternative or a comparable to a specific product, we get it 18 percent of the time,” he said. “There was some risk we had to assume.”

Power bollards aren’t the only things the company produces as it has contracts with the Sterling Company, which owns Kay Jewelers, Jarret’s, JB Robinson and a host of other jewelry chains, and it also has a contract with Tiffany’s, he said.

The company also has attracted the attention of California-based coffee franchise It’s A Grind, which is adding 100 stores each year and furnishes some of the retail furniture for those locations, he said.

As part of the company’s commitment to growth, new product lines are being added including one which Flaherty said he believes will explode in the marketplace once it is unveiled in four months.

The company’s attention to detail and quality have paid huge dividends as Flaherty said, “If you can draw it, we can make it.”

Since it moved into its new location about a month ago, Rick Flaherty said plans are already underway to bring the company’s powder coating operations inhouse instead of relying on an Everett firm for that service.

That will bring in up to four new employees and the company is also looking to add two new designers after the first of the year, Cathy Flaherty said.

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