When Sharon and Jacob Benus started Impaq International, a Columbia-based research firm, in their Pikesville basement in 2001, little did they know that just over 10 years later the company would employ more than 275 people at three locations.
According to Impaq President Avi Benus, Sharon and Jacob's son, having the headquarters located in downtown Columbia, where it has been since 2002, has contributed to drawing the best and brightest to the growing company, which in turn has spawned further growth.
"We think Columbia has been an asset to us in hiring people outside of the area. A lot of times we hire new PhDs and master's graduates, and we sell them on the idea this is a good place to live," said Avi, sitting in his office that overlooks Symphony Woods Park.
Impaq is a research firm that conducts economic impact studies for businesses, government agencies, nonprofits and other groups. Earlier this year, the company was contracted by the Howard County Public School System to study its technology programming.
For the last seven years, Benus said the company has grown revenues by an average of 20 to 30 percent. In 2013, the company continued to grow rapidly by adding 100 employees, renovating its Columbia office space and acquiring and converting a small California-based firm into a west coast office.
Of the 275 people that the company employs, 175 work out of the Columbia office, including the co-founders, who still live in Pikesville.
"Columbia has served us well in terms of not only location, but also having a lot of the amenities in terms of parks, restaurants and other things hospitable to businesses and employees," Avi said.
Avi said his parents decided to start the business in Columbia because of the location between Baltimore and Washington, as well as the quality of the community.
"There is a really good pool of talent here," Avi said. "We think we get the best of both worlds being in a suburban area, but having a city feel."
Impaq's Associate Director of Employee Relations Serap Davaz, a Columbia resident, said the community's emphasis on diversity and high quality of life are keys to recruiting for the company.
"We do a lot of recruiting across the country and this has always been a very attractive location," said Davaz, who grew up in Ellicott City. "Everything from the school system to the safety to the demographic makeup is appealing."
According to Davaz, who is of Turkish heritage, more than half of Impaq's employees are minorities and many come from foreign countries.
Among them is Amgad Naguib, a native of Egypt and former Washington resident who currently serves as communications director.
"A lot of people picking up and moving here are looking to start families," said Naguib, who has small children. "Putting up a place like Columbia, where people feel comfortable raising families, is a selling point."
And while Avi said the company is looking to expand its Washington, D.C., and California offices, its home will remain in Columbia at least in the short-term as the company recently signed a new 10-year plus lease on the building.
"We've been following very closely the construction projects and the various plans for Symphony Woods, for the Mall in Columbia and for the lakefront," Avi said in reference to the anticipated redevelopment of downtown which includes a new Whole Foods, a Foreman Wolf Restaurant, apartment complexes and an arts and cultural park in Symphony Woods.
"We see ourselves growing along with Columbia."
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said having Impaq International in the downtown area was important to the future of Columbia.
"Jobs and commercial activity are a vital part of downtown Columbia redevelopment. Our vision for Downtown Columbia includes residential growth, arts and culture and recreation, but jobs are the mortar in the foundation and will help create the community we want and deserve," said Ulman in a statement. "We welcome Impaq International's growth in Columbia. It is a premier research firm and the location is perfect for them and other companies looking for a vibrant home between Baltimore and Washington."