Orion Associates featured in StarTribune

Thomley Featured in a Star Tribune Business Article by Dick Youngblood

Rebecca Hage ThomleyDecember 2008

Orion Associates and Rebecca Thomley were recognized in a
business article, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, by business writer
Dick Youngblood, on December 9, 2008.  The article details the
growth and diversification of Orion Associates and its related
companies, including Meridian Services, Zenith Services, and Orion
Intermediary Services Organization, notes the organization’s volunteer
efforts, and credits Rebecca Thomley’s dynamic leadership in making it
happen.

The link to the article and the text of the article are
included below:

http://www.startribune.com/business/35839899.html?page=1&c=y

Dynamo Turns Help Into a Big
Business: An Energetic Psychologist Enlarged a
Support-services Firm Nearly Tenfold.

By Dick Youngblood, Minneapolis Star Tribune

December 9, 2008

Rebecca Thomley is a clinical psychologist and a Red Cross volunteer who serves as a mental health responder in major emergencies.  It’s a role that put her at the scene shortly after the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed and in the hard-hit Ninth Ward of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

What she saw in New Orleans, in turn, inspired her to return to the Twin Cities, set up a nonprofit relief organization and begin recruiting people to help rebuild homes destroyed by the hurricane.

That’s in addition to the 10 days a month she spends on her private psychology practice and the time devoted to her 12-year-old twin sons.

Oh yes, she’s also president and CEO of Orion Associates, a Golden Valley company that provides a variety of support services to children and adults with physical and mental disabilities.

It’s a business that grossed just $3.8 million in 1999, when she took over from her mother and the company’s founder, Marya Hage.  In the ensuing nine years, Thomley built Orion into a broad-based operation that is on track to gross $32 million in 2008, a run that figures out to a compound annual growth rate of 27 percent.

“I really don’t know how she does it all,” said Bonnie Harris, owner of Wax Marketing, a St. Paul communications company that works with Orion.

Part of the answer is a schedule that starts at 5 a.m. and adds up to a 50- to 60-hour workweek.  Thomley, however, prefers to credit a staff of experienced professionals “who keep things in order.”

Thomley, 49, was happily immersed in a private psychology practice with more than 150 clients when her mother decided to retire following the death of her husband and asked her daughter to take over.

“I was passionate about the practice; I loved it,” she said.  “But I also got excited about the possibilities with
the business.  There are so many things you can do in this field.”

Thomley found a passel of possibilities, enough to support four subsidiaries operating under the Orion umbrella.

One is Meridian Services, the original business, which in 1999 was managing six group homes and providing a smattering of home care and case management. Today, it manages 24 group homes and has added an
extensive list of offerings ranging from assisted living and parent support services to conservator and guardianship programs to respite and mentoring programs.

The payoff: Meridian grossed $11.7 million last year, 39 percent of the 2007 total of $29.6 million.

That contribution was topped by another company, Orion Intermediary Services Organization, which Thomley started in 2001 to offer fiscal management services helping families of disabled people handle the support funds paid by the state.

In 2007, Orion Intermediary grossed $14.3 million, 48 percent of the year’s total, and a similar company started in 2007 in Utah added $266,000.

In addition to supporting these activities, the parent company also contributed $2.7 million to the pot last year with a human services training business that serves both its subsidiaries and outside companies.

While it’s not a huge revenue producer, a fourth subsidiary dubbed Zenith Services is arguably the most intriguing of the group. It generated $790,000 last year with an uncommon focus:  Whenever possible, it helps mentally disabled people find jobs that are more challenging and stimulating than the menial positions traditionally afforded them.

Thus you’ll find one man working in a bookstore, stocking the shelves.  And a woman who applies her love of children to a job at a daycare center.  And if there aren’t enough jobs like that available, “we don’t wait around for them to appear,” Thomley said.

Consider: Two years ago, Zenith bought the equipment and trained several clients to run a kiosk at the Mall of America where customers could make videos of themselves performing musical numbers.  Zenith eventually left the mall and started marketing the service to corporate parties, school events and private gatherings.

Or consider the aging ambulance the company bought and fitted out as an ice-cream truck.  With a Zenith employee driving and several clients handling the sales, including the cash register, the truck has been showing up at games and community events in the area.

In her spare time — whatever that is — Thomley has kept busy with her River of Hope, the nonprofit she started to help rebuild New Orleans.  In the past three years she has raised $90,000 for building materials and other supplies needed there and has recruited more than 460 volunteers to spend three to five days on helping with demolition, cleanup and rebuilding in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward.

The result: River of Hope volunteers helped rebuild a church, a community center, five homes and two duplexes.

And in November, the state of Louisiana handed River of Hope a $75,000 grant to help open the first mental health resource in the Ninth Ward.