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Jan. 15, 2021

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Vancouver’s nLight soared in first day of trading

Shares gained 68 percent in IPO

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
5 Photos
nLight production operator Wilma Marron, of Vancouver, works in the company’s laser manufacturing process. The company began its first day of public trading on April 25 and closed strong.
nLight production operator Wilma Marron, of Vancouver, works in the company’s laser manufacturing process. The company began its first day of public trading on April 25 and closed strong. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

If Day 1 was any indication, nLight’s future as a publicly traded company looks pretty bright.

The Vancouver laser manufacturer landed on the ticker of the Nasdaq Exchange on Thursday, selling for $16 per share. By market close at 4 p.m. Eastern, share prices had climbed to $26.95, a one-day gain of 68 percent.

With 5.4 million shares on sale, and another 27.6 million shares not yet for sale, nLight looks to be valued at more than $880 million. It remains to be seen whether the first-day excitement and share price will ebb over the coming weeks.

Founder and CEO Scott Keeney told The Columbian on Thursday that the company will end up raising more than $100 million, among the largest initial public offerings in the region’s history.

“I think that’s something everybody in the region should take great pride in,” he said. “It’s certainly not just me or our team. It’s the community. We should all celebrate in this success.”

NLight makes high-powered lasers from fiber-optic and semiconductor technologies. Once a science-fiction trope, the science has advanced to make lasers useful and affordable for manufacturing and defense.

David Nierenberg, a prominent Camas investor with 87,000 shares in the company, said the first day signaled nLight’s potential. He said it’s not uncommon for companies to fall flat in their first day.

“This one went out and above (expectations) and is now trading at a 40 percent premium. Good IPOs do that,” he said. “This is a successful IPO. That’s the best description I can give you.”

‘Enormous’ potential

Founded in 2000, nLight now takes on more responsibilities as a publicly traded company whose shareholders will be hungry for consistent revenue growth.

Filings before its stock debut show nLight is already charting in that direction. Revenues climbed from $101.3 million in 2016 to $138.6 million last year, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Net income rose from a $14.2 million loss to a $1.8 million profit.

“I do believe that the company has a bright future because it has great management and board (of directors), a large market and an enviable competitive position,” Nierenberg said.

One point on the market and competition Nierenberg made: One board member of nLight is former Washington Gov. Gary Locke. After his two terms, Locke served as President Barack Obama’s commerce secretary and then as U.S. ambassador to China.

“Over 40 percent of nLight’s sales go to China. It’s a great benefit for this company to have a governor, an ambassador on that board,” he said.

Lasers are also poised to carve out larger chunks of industry. Some experts peg that industrial sales will grow to $4.2 billion in 2020, nearly double their market from 2015.

The largest player in the laser manufacturing field is IPG Photonics Corp., based in Massachusetts. Its stock prices closed Thursday at $215.66 per share, up $1.57.

“The potential is enormous,” Nierenberg said. “Lasers are a far more cost-effective, rapid, reliable, safe way of cutting than older mechanical technologies.”

If nLight does manage to shine at that scale, it could benefit Clark County. Nierenberg said not only will bigger business help nLight grow, but large hardware companies tend to create spin-out companies as they grow. They also attract other players in the industry to move here.

More jobs are good, Keeney said, but he also added that he hoped it would help the region at large, whether through volunteering or education initiatives or whatever else.

“The impact is that this is a successful, high-tech company that’s continued to grow in the region,” he said. “That ultimately means more jobs, continued growth and hopefully improvement in our community.”

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