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Five Mass. companies on Inner City 100

The Bay State businesses make the list of urban firms that are bringing jobs and growth to areas often suffering from neglect

Aaron Kirley, cofounder of luggage shipping company Luggage Forward, in the company's Boston office.JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

When computers are put out to pasture, Juan Yepez makes a profit.

Yepez, chief executive of Mainstream Global in Lawrence, recycles used computers and other electronics, wiping their memories and reselling them overseas. His company has 100 workers in Massachusetts, Colombia, and Peru, selling computers "to people who maybe couldn't afford a new system, but can afford a system at half or a third of the price,'' said Yepez, 38.

Mainstream Global and four other Massachusetts businesses will be included on the annual Inner City 100 list, which honors 100 successful urban firms throughout the United States. The other Bay State companies joining Mainstream Global on the list are architectural firm Fennick McCredie; ice cream chain J.P. Licks; travel shipping company Luggage Forward; and TPR Media, an online health care content provider. The annual list is compiled by the Boston-based nonprofit Initiative for a Competitive Inner City and Fortune magazine, and is set for release Thursday.

The Inner City 100 highlights growth in areas that tend to suffer from high unemployment and neglect, according to the initiative's president, Mary Kay Leonard. "We know that a firm located in the inner city is three times more likely to create jobs for inner city residents than one that is located in the region,'' she said.


The businesses on the list exemplify how inner cities can be revitalized by entrepreneurs who want to take advantage of existing infrastructure and attractive zoning, said Jerry Sargent, president of Citizens Bank in Massachusetts, one of the initiative's sponsors.

As an added bonus, said Sargent, entrepreneurs in inner cities can amplify one another's successes. "If you can actually attract a significant number of businesses to invest in a particular area, they begin to create these clusters,'' he said.

The initiative will honor Inner City 100 firms at a two-day symposium beginning Tuesday, which will feature management seminars at Harvard Business School as well as an awards ceremony.


Mainstream Global, Lawrence

The company was founded 12 years ago by Yepez and his brother, whose parents emigrated from Ecuador in the late 1960s. Most of its 50 workers in Lawrence are Latinos who live locally, said Yepez, and most have worked for him for at least five years.

"We try hiring within the community in Lawrence,'' he said. "It's had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, but we've been able to find good quality workers in the community.''

Mainstream Global had 2010 revenues of $13.2 million, according to the initiative's figures.

J.P. Licks, Jamaica Plain

Vince Petryk, 57, took out a $25,000 loan in 1981 to start his popular ice cream parlor chain in Jamaica Plain (hence the J.P. moniker). He was in his late 20s, and had just been fired from a job managing a Wendy's chain restaurant in Boston. The idea for J.P. Licks originated from a position he had held a few years before at an ice cream shop in Philadelphia.

"I was watching the mystery and the power of ice cream to transform people back to a much more childlike state when they came up to order their ice cream at the counter,'' he said.

Now Petryk operates 10 parlors in the Boston area that the initiative said had 130 employees and 2010 revenues of $9.8 million.


The business has always been intensely local, said Petryk. He hires managers that live near the stores, so they know the community. "We started off as a neighborhood business, and we continued in whatever neighborhood we opened up in to become a part of that community,'' he said.

J.P. Licks was also a forebear of the locavore movement, making its own ice cream and toppings, he said. "We pretty much are very vertically integrated, except we don't have our own cows,'' said Petryk.

TPR Media, Jamaica Plain

Efforts to curb skyrocketing health care costs have been a boon to TPR Media in recent years, said chief executive Betsy Weaver, 64, a former newspaper publisher who founded the firm in 2002. The company manages e-correspondence for health care providers, easing communications between doctors and patients.

"It's in the best interests of the institution, Medicaid, Medicare, the whole country, that we figure out ways of more effectively and efficiently connecting the providers with their patients,'' Weaver said.

In 2010, TPR Media's revenues were $2.2 million, according to the initiative. The company employs 16 people.

Early last year, TPR Media launched UbiCare, a service that provides hospitals with content for Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, and measures traffic on those sites.

The service might provide information on how to prepare for surgery and what to expect afterward, Weaver said. "If you go into a pre-op visit, they tell you many, many things,'' said Weaver. "Within 24 hours, you have forgotten 80 percent of it. You're overwhelmed. This is a way to get information you most need from a reliable source you can bank on.''


Fennick McCredie, Boston

Deborah Fennick, 46, and Jonathan McCredie, 42, founded their architectural and engineering firm in 2003 after their ex-employer merged with another large firm.

In recent years, one of the firm's specialties has been small and medium-scale transportation projects, from the charming Martha's Vineyard Airport terminal to an MBTA parking garage in Salem that is now under design. "Sustainability is a big focus of the firm,'' said Fennick. "A huge component of that is how we get around.''

The firm has 13 employees. In 2010, its revenues were $1.3 million, according to initiative figures.

A key factor in the firm's placement on the list: its collaboration with Northeastern University and Wentworth University's co-op programs, which give on-the-job training to students, said Leonard.

Fennick and McCredie viewed the schools and other academic institutions as playing a crucial role in energizing the architectural community. "Boston would be ranked as one of the most livable cities in the county,'' said McCredie. "Some would say, 'Why is that?' Because of the way the buildings are, and the ways buildings and the streets and spaces work together. That is inherently attractive to architects.''

Luggage Forward, Boston

Aaron Kirley, 36, and Zeke Atkins, 35, both Deerfield Academy graduates, started Luggage Forward in their Watertown condo in 2004.

Like a traditional shipping company, Luggage Forward moves suitcases to their destinations, so owners don't have to drag bags to and from the airport or hotel. But the company markets itself as a travel firm.


The firm charges around $250 to move a large suitcase from Boston to Los Angeles, said Kirley. The company has 13 employees, mostly recent college grads, and revenues of around $2.6 million, according to the initiative.

"Before you even get on your flight, you know your luggage is waiting at your destination,'' said Kirley. "It takes a lot of stress out of your experience.''