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Founder of Balboa Instruments Receives National SBA Award


David Cline, who guided Balboa Instruments Inc. in Costa Mesa from a fledgling start-up to a leading maker of electronic controls for spas, won the U.S. Small Business Administration's top entrepreneurship award Wednesday.

It is the first time in the competition's 37-year history that a Southern Californian has landed the prestigious National Small Business Person of the Year award.

Cline, who founded Balboa 21 years ago after a hydroplane boat-making business failed, is scheduled to meet President Clinton today along with some winners of state and specialty SBA awards.

The federal agency selected Cline from among 53 regional winners, one each from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam. Judges considered profitability, sales, employment growth and community service.

Cline, a 56-year-old Cal State Fullerton graduate, joins the ranks of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's and David Giuliani of toothbrush maker Optiva Corp. as a national SBA winner.

"I'm feeling absolutely bowled over and delighted," Cline said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Washington, where he accepted the honor. "It's like winning the Academy Award."

The private company's earnings and sales have grown an average 25% a year for each of the past nine years. It recorded $38 million in revenue last year.

Cline credits the company's 300 employees for Balboa's success and said he tries to treat them well. As one key morale-booster, he rewards talented employees by promoting from within the company whenever possible.

"Dave . . . talks to and encourages everyone from production workers to managers," said Cindy Otto, 35. In 17 years at Balboa, she said, she has risen from work on the assembly line at $5 an hour to vice president of engineering with a salary in the "high five figures."

As a measure of the respect Cline has in the company, he was secretly nominated for the award by his employees and the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce. He has said he was "totally surprised" to learn about it later.

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