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Corporate Specialties Named One Of The Nation’s Fastest Growing Companies In Under-Resourced Communities

Published: 2021-12-14 Author: Lisa Horn

We’re thrilled to share that Corporate Specialties has been named a winner of the 2021 Inner City 100 (IC100) awarded by Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC). Since 1999, ICIC has identified and celebrated the 100 fastest-growing businesses in under-resourced communities in the U.S. through the IC100 award. 

The 2021 IC100 winners were evaluated based on revenue growth during the four-year period from 2016 to 2020. Corporate Specialties, led by Valerie Hayman Sklar, was ranked #97 on the list based on its four-year revenue growth rate of 23%. 

When reviewing the last four years, Valerie says the growth is the result of consistent referrals, targeted outreach and a whole lot of hustle. Being able to achieve this growth in Detroit makes the recognition that much sweeter. 

“Ever since visiting my family’s business in downtown Detroit as a child, I’ve felt very connected to the city,” she says. “I moved the headquarters to Detroit in 2013 because I saw the city was on the edge of change. There was an excitement, an energy, and I wanted to be a part of it and contribute to the rebirth of a legendary American city. Being included on the IC100 list for my contributions to economic growth in a city I love is a true honor.” 

Founded by renowned Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter in 1994, ICIC is a research and strategy organization that today is widely recognized as the preeminent authority on urban economic growth. It drives inclusive economic prosperity in under-resourced communities through innovative research and programs to create jobs, income and wealth for local residents. 

This year’s IC100 list was unveiled during an awards ceremony at ICIC’s 2021 Annual Conference held virtually on December 9.

Growth During Covid-19

In light of the economic and financial impact of COVID-19, small businesses are more vital now than ever to local economies and small business ecosystems. Thus, it is important to recognize and celebrate them for their growth and resilience. 

“Recording financial growth year over year is a significant accomplishment,” says ICIC CEO Steve Grossman. “The Inner City 100 class of 2021 sustained their momentum amid the unprecedented challenges faced during the pandemic to greatly expand their respective businesses’ revenue—a tremendous accolade to be celebrated.” 

Corporate Specialties sales in 2020 actually grew 38% over 2019, and it wasn’t in sales of PPE. “Our clients had to get very creative to continue marketing their brands, connecting with customers and hosting events during the lockdowns,” Valerie says. “They relied on our expertise to design strategic promotional marketing programs, and the sales came naturally as a result.”

Support For Charitable Organizations

While sales growth was the primary factor for evaluation, how companies support nonprofits and charitable organizations within their communities was also considered. 

Grossman adds, “These firms have been engines of job growth and a healthy, inclusive economy in these incredibly challenging times. They have also been actively engaged in strengthening their communities by donating their time and resources to local organizations and charities. We are truly inspired by our IC100 winners.” 

In 2020, Corporate Specialties supported the City of Detroit with donations of tote bags for food distribution as well as the Detroit Fire Department with gifts of pet oxygen masks to provide respiratory assistance to pets that were in fires. 

But the biggest contribution to the community was when Drew Barrymore wore a vintage The Detroit News t-shirt on the cover of InStyle magazine, and Valerie worked with the media outlet to recreate the shirts as a fundraising campaign. Corporate Specialties manufactured, sold and individually mailed 5,500 shirts, helping The Detroit News raise more than $70,000 for the Rosa Parks Scholarship Foundation. Read all about it here.

2021 IC100 Winners By The Numbers

From 2016 to 2020, the 2021 Inner City 100 companies averaged 216% revenue growth and created 3,899 total jobsOf these 100 winners, 32 are woman-owned/led, and 60 are BIPOC-owned/led, the latter of which is a record high-number in the program’s 23-year history.

Average Company Age: 20 Years
Cities Represented: 51
States Represented: 24
Industries Represented: 24
Woman-Owned/Led: 32
BIPOC-Owned/Led: 60
Veteran-Owned/Led:   5
First-Time Winners: 39
Hall of Famers (won IC100 5 or more times) 21
Average Four-Year Revenue Growth Rate: 216%
Average 2020 Revenue: $14.13MM
Total Jobs Created: 3,899
Total Employed by IC100 Winners in 2020: 8,063


To view the full list of 2021 IC100 award winners by ranking and learn more about each company, visit:

A big thank you to ICIC for this honor. We are truly grateful to be included on this list with so many distinguished businesses.   

If you’d like to know more about what we do at Corporate Specialties and what makes us different from traditional promotional products distributors, check out this article on our concierge service as well as this series on why strategy is imperative to your marketing promotions

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