he largest private companies in Los Angeles County did well in 2017 with hose that disclosed revenue numbers for the Business Journal’s annual list showing an average growth rate triple that of the overall economy.

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Eric Smidt

The locally based companies showed a combined year-over-year growth of 7.5 percent – three times the nearly 2.5 economic growth rate of the overall U.S. economy, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

“It shows that we have very healthy growth in our private companies, outpacing the national and state growth,” said Somjita Mitra, director of the LAEDC’s Institute for Applied Economics, who analyzed the Business Journal data. “Now we’re humming along like a well-oiled machine.”

Among the largest companies to see a big jump in revenue was Harbor Freight Tools USA Inc., of Calabasas, which climbed up to tie for No. 3 this year with $4.5 billion in revenue, a 12.5 percent increase over its 2016 sales. Harbor Freight entered the list’s top 10 last year at No. 6 and has continued to experience strong growth (see related story, page 10).

Eric Smidt, the company’s owner and chief executive, founded the company as a 17-year-old in 1977 with his father and turned it into a massive mail-order tool retailer. He said in an email to the Business Journal that he wants to pour a portion of his company’s revenues into trade education as part of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.

“In recent years, skilled trade education has been deprioritized in our public high schools,” Smidt said in the email. “By 2024, as Baby Boomers retire, there will be more than 1.5 million skilled trades openings. Our country and our communities need that workforce, and they’re local, well-paying jobs that can’t be lost to off-shore competitors.”

The manufacturing sector led the list with 28 companies, followed by 24 in wholesale distribution, 19 in services, 17 in retail, 16 in the construction trades, 14 in technology and 12 firms in finance. There were eight companies grouped in real estate development and homebuilding, and two companies in hospitality and entertainment.

“We’re looking at some very strong growth in key industry sectors, including construction, with overall implications for the strength of the economy,” LAEDC’s Mitra said.

The region’s 150 largest private companies – half of which responded to a Business Journal survey – took in $127 billion in revenue last year. Despite the 7.5 percent aggregate gain in revenue by companies that responded, the total combined revenue of companies fell 1 percent from the previous year. Contributing to the overall dip was the departure of several companies from the list, including Unified Grocers Inc., of Commerce, which ranked No. 5 last year based on $4.1 billion in revenue. It was acquired in June 2017 by Supervalu Inc., of Eden Prairie, Minn.

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