Issaquah innovators earn business honor

January 29, 2013

By Warren Kagarise

Innovation in Issaquah is exemplified by a leading apparel manufacturer, a revolutionary process to transform garbage into fertilizer and a theater renowned for fostering Broadway-bound musicals.

Issaquah Chamber of Commerce and city leaders announced the Innovation in Issaquah honorees — apparel manufacturer SanMar, WISErg, a manufacturer of garbage-to-fertilizer harvesters, and the nonprofit Village Theatre — at a Jan. 24 ceremony and luncheon.

Leaders from the chamber and City Hall recognized the entrepreneurs’ accomplishments through the Innovation in Issaquah contest, a showcase for local businesses offering unique services. Honorees demonstrate innovation in product development, services, systems or strategies.

The top choices in the contest represented a broad cross-section of businesses in Issaquah. Organizers received 30 nominations for the awards.

On the Web

  • Read about apparel manufacturer SanMar’s decision to relocate from Preston to Issaquah at http://bit.ly/qFJgxe.
  • Read about how WISErg’s innovative harvester transforms food scraps into fertilizer at the local PCC Natural Markets store at http://bit.ly/MaNyoO.
  • Read about the journey from Village Theatre to Broadway for the Tony Award-winning musicals ‘Next to Normal’ and ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ at http://bit.ly/fjlDEn.
  • Discover past Innovation in Issaquah honorees’ accomplishments at www.issaquahpress.com/tag/innovation-in-issaquah.

The chamber unveiled the 2013 honorees before a crowd of about 100 business and government leaders during a luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn – Issaquah.

SanMar employs about 1,000 people at the glass-sheathed Eastpointe Corporate Center behind The Home Depot after relocating corporate offices from Preston last year.

The company supplies apparel and accessories to companies for embroidery and other embellishment.

SanMar’s affiliated brands include household names, such as Columbia Sportswear, Eddie Bauer and Nike.

“They supply apparel and accessories to screen printers, embroiderers, promotional product distributors, athletic dealers and more,” chamber CEO Matthew Bott said in the announcement. “Whether they’re outfitting a Fortune 500 corporation or the local bowling team, SanMar is there.”

Marty Lott founded SanMar as a college project at the University of Washington 40 years ago, and the Lott family continues to run the company.

The startup WISErg developed a machine called a harvester to transform food scraps into a building block for organic fertilizer. (The company name is a nod to the erg, a tiny unit of energy.)

Microsoft alumni Larry LeSueur and Jose Lugo founded WISErg in 2009. The company is based across the street from Pickering Place — not far from early harvester adopter PCC Natural Markets.

The local market produces 600 to 800 pounds of food waste each day — fruit peels from the juice bar, discarded vegetable leaves from the produce section, et al.

Inside the harvester, multiple tanks to convert food scraps into a nutrient-rich liquid. The system relies on technology and micro-organisms to create rich results.

Tim Robie, WISErg organic fertilizer engineer, said rather than recoil from the garbage-munching harvest, business and city leaders embraced the opportunity.

“Without the support and encouragement from the city of Issaquah and its citizens and businesses, we would not be here today,” he said at the ceremony. “We really appreciate that, and we appreciate the opportunity to do what we do.”

Organizers recognized Village Theatre for 34 years as a leading arts organization in Greater Seattle and, in recent years, for attracting a national spotlight to Issaquah.

“Art by its nature is innovation,” Bott said. “Innovative performing arts created by this organization located on Front Street in Issaquah reach Broadway and the world.”

The rock musical “Next to Normal” — a dysfunctional-family-drama about a bipolar-disorder-afflicted housewife — earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a rarity for musicals.

“Next to Normal” originated at Village Theatre in 2002 as “Feeling Electric” and, after a long gestation, opened on Broadway in April 2009.

The production cleaned up at the 2009 Tony Awards, too.

The other Village Theatre production to reach Broadway — jukebox musical “Million Dollar Quartet” — garnered multiple Tony nods and a statuette for actor Levi Kreis.

The jukebox musical is scheduled to open next month at Harrah’s Las Vegas after a successful national tour and a just-concluded London run.

“Each of these productions around the world is contractually obligated to state in their program, ‘developed and produced by Village Theatre in Issaquah, Wash.,’” Bott said.

Jamie Lilly, Village Theatre marketing director, said the location influences the shows on stage.

“We really think that Issaquah is a big part of our identity and what makes us who we are and what makes us special on a national scale,” she said at the ceremony.

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