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BUSINESS IS BOOMING FOR IDAHO LAB

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What started 20 years ago as a one-man laboratory for Silver Valley mines is among the nation's fastest growing private companies today with customers across the nation.

"Believe it or not, my goal when I first went into business was to eventually make $100,000 a year," said Wayne Sorensen, founder of SVL Analytical. "We did that the first year. . . . Revenues in 1991 hit $3.6 million."Until recently, the growth of the environmental and mineral analysis company went unnoticed in the region.

The company's 25,000-square-foot laboratory and office building is all but hidden from view in the heart of the defunct Bunker Hill smelter complex that is awaiting environmental cleanup.

And the silver industry that was the company's original target is struggling to stay alive.

But SVL is enjoying record earnings because it has recognized industry trends and adapted to them.

It has won hundreds of government and private contracts, and this fall was included in Inc. magazine's list of the 500 fastest growing private companies in America.

Since 1987, SVL has seen revenues jump 732 percent as demand for its chemical studies of water, soils and minerals intensified from governments and private business.

And the recognition in a national business magazine has been good news for the depressed Silver Valley economy.

"These are the types of companies that will help us convince other firms to locate here," said Jim Hays, director of the local economic development corporation.

Sorensen attributes the company's growth to a change in strategy in 1986 as the mining industry began to feel the pressure of intensified environmental regulation and declining precious metal prices.

"We could see the trend," he said. "The small mining companies were going out of business or merging into the larger firms, and we weren't getting contracts from the big companies because we couldn't handle all of their work."

So SVL began to aggressively pursue environmental contracts to the point that now it gets 70 percent of its revenue from that sector and only 30 percent from mining interests. And it won approval as a government contract laboratory, making it one of only a few dozen companies nationwide authorized to do special pollution monitoring work.