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Dollar General Corp. (DG), The TJX Companies, Inc. (TJX): Six Corporate Heroes of Autism Research

Every week for the past year we’ve examined a CEO, or pair of co-CEOs, who’s done an exemplary job of managing the company and delivering for shareholders, providing a fun and fruitful work environment for employees, and who gave back in extraordinary ways to the community.

Today, we’re going to take a one-week detour from focusing on one specific CEO and instead highlight a group of six companies that have been significant donors in fighting one of the nation’s quickest growing diseases: autism.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A disturbing trend
Autism spectrum disorders have been growing at an alarming rate since the new millennium. In 2000, ASDs affected about one in every 150 children, but as of 2008 this figure had narrowed to just one in every 88 children — nearly double in just eight years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The causes of autism — which is a complex brain development disorder that can cause children great difficulty in communicating and forging relationships — are still largely unknown, thus treatments and preventative measures to treat and/or cure the disease are either in the very early stages or nonexistent. It’s a disturbing trend that certainly needs research dollars thrown in its direction if we hope to make a difference.

Now I know what you might be thinking: “Sure, I support autism research, but what exactly does this have to do with investing?”

Why these donations matter
Keep a few of the following points in mind. First, public image is everything for some businesses — especially for retailers and food service companies. I’m not in any way saying that these businesses are putting on a show by donating to autism research, but it does point to a company that cares for the community it operates in and creates a rosier view of how a consumer might view a business. I know I personally haven’t shopped at certain stores based on their corporate actions, but I also know this pendulum swings both ways, and I’ve gone out of my way to shop at local and national chains that have given back to the community in the past.

Another consideration here is that a company that donates clearly has to be doing something right. Sure, a donation is a nice benefit comes tax time for businesses, but the chances of these companies donating to any cause is pretty slim if they weren’t making a hefty profit to begin with. In sum, big donations often equal big profits and a healthy company.

Finally, considering how prevalent an autism diagnosis has become, the chances of a company having an employee, or multiple employees, with a familial connection to a child with autism is growing. I believe this to be a strong gesture by these companies to their employees and the community that they do indeed care about this growing issue. Think of it in terms of providing specialized care through donations to instill loyalty and camaraderie among its workforce. And as we all know, a happy workforce is an incredibly productive workforce.

6 corporate heroes of autism research
Without further ado, here are six companies that have partnered with Autism Speaks and are deserving of a bow for their efforts to help fund the fight against autism.

Toys R Us Limited

If we were handing out gold stars here, privately held toy retailer Toys R Us would take top honors. This year, Toys R Us raised more than $2 million for Autism Speaks. Its “Shine a Light for Autism” campaign in the U.S. generated in excess of $1.3 million, and $765,000 was donated from its Canadian operations. Best of all, 100% of the proceeds goes to Autism Speaks. This is the seventh such year that Toys R Us has partnered up with Autism Speaks, and it’s raised more than $18 million in cumulative donations over that time period.

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