Rick Badie's Gwinnett: He grabs the talent cut loose by others

My guess is that few employers treat their workers to lunch these days, much less cook it.

On Wednesday, Ben Treadway, president/CEO of Fulton Communications, did both. He grilled brats, burgers, dogs and fish in the parking lot for his entire staff. The Norcross-based business represents manufacturers who sell transmission networks — business phones, data switches, security systems and such.

Last time we spoke, Treadway had just opened an Orlando office. Then, like now, the economy was shaky. Then, like now, banks were stingy with their money, rather our money, when it came to making loans to the so-called backbone of the economy.

None of that has stymied Treadway. His private company is branching out again, this time in St. Louis. “Fulton St. Louis” will employ five or six people, similar to the personnel in the Phoenix and Orlando locales. The staff size may not wow, but in this economic day and time, it’s noteworthy.

On Tuesday, AJC reporter Dan Chapman wrote a front-page story about people in their 50s and older who, generally, can’t get full-time jobs. The jobless rate for Americans 55 and older hit 7.3 percent in August, he wrote, and it has risen faster this recession than for any other age group. It’s a level that hasn’t been seen in at least 60 years of federal record-keeping.

Every time Fulton Communications has grown, it’s due to some middle manager in the communications business who has been shown the door and Treadway knows.

His phone rings. Details related to partnerships and such get hashed out. An LLC is born.

“One guy is in his 60s, one guy is 53, and the other is 54,” said Treadway, who’s been in the communications business 30 years.

He uses a fast-food analogy to explain his growth strategy. A McDonald’s manager gets let go. He joins Burger King. Same job. Different employer.

“You have to have the cash flow to get [the offices] going,” he told me, “but other than that, there is little risk. You put your money up and get your return in two or three years. I can bring in proven people who have already done this. Corporate America lays off and we hire.

“Every office has somebody who has been laid off from a corporation. If they do what they are capable of doing, they could make more money than they did before.”

I wonder aloud if it would be better to eliminate practically all the upfront risk. Secure a small-business loan. That way, you initially pay the interest, then when the subsidiary starts turning a profit, whittle down the principal.

“Everybody I talk to says banks aren’t loaning any money,” he told me. “They’re just sitting on it.”

On Wednesday, most of the Fulton staff had eaten by the time I dropped in. The luncheon was a celebration. Mitel, a high-tech firm, recently published its list of top dealers for fiscal year 2010.

And Fulton cracked the top 10. Again.

Rick Badie, an Opinion columnist, is based in Gwinnett. Reach him at rbadie@ajc.com or 770-263-3875.