Jason Cohen still works at the same company he got his start at in 1992, immediately after graduating from Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Today, he’s the president of ILM Corp., a document management and data processing firm based in Fredericksburg.
“It’s the only job I’ve ever had,” Cohen said.
Cohen was involved in the business before he even started working there. His parents founded the company in Florida in 1976 — an offshoot of a data entry firm they’d started in the 1960s — and brought it to Fredericksburg in 1978.
He bought the company from his parents in 2001 when it was struggling, and he turned the business around.
The company is doing well enough now that Cohen was named the Small Business Administration Small Business Person of the Year for Virginia.
Currently about 80 percent of ILM’s business is done through federal contracting — federal clients include the Department of Health and Human Services, the Agency for International Development, and the Patent and Trademark Office. The company scans, processes and digitizes documents for offices dealing with heavy paperwork.
Cohen remembers when ILM processed documents for The Washington Post — one of its first clients. “We’d go up [to The Post] at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, pick up the paper and key it into an electronic format every day.”
That business has disappeared over the years as new printing technology rendered such services irrelevant.
“When we started, a lot of the work we’d do at our own brick and mortar [location]. But contracts became unstable, and the marketplace was shifting,” he said, explaining that a large chunk of ILM’s business had come from print publishers, who subsequently began using word processors. “There wasn’t that need to take books, and things like that, and do the data entry portion.We started closing down parts of the operation.”
At its leanest, the company, which used to employ hundreds, counted just six employees during the mid-1990s. “We came to a point where we had no work,” Cohen said.
After taking the helm in 2001, Cohen slowly rebuilt the business to about 20 employees by investing in ILM’s digitizing technology, and outsourcing more work — a move which “opened up the sales and marketing to a much broader clientele than we were able to do on our own. Slowly, we were able to start building back our customer base.”
The company does a few million dollars worth of business each year, Cohen said. Last year, he moved its operations to a HUBZone in Fredericksburg — an SBA classification helping small businesses in historically underutilized business zones secure federal contracts.
Cohen balances his lifelong involvement with ILM by training for Ironman Triathlons — he’s currently training for his third, and this year alone, he will have run two marathons, at least two half marathons and two half Ironmen.
“Over my 20 years [with ILM], I built in a little more balance. It’s very therapeutic,” he said, adding, “I don’t want to be this one-dimensional guy. This is a part of my life, but it’s not my life.”
“We came to a point where we had no work.”
Jason Cohen, ILM Corp.