From Bedford to Culpeper to Charlottesville to Petersburg, the five winners of the University of Virginia’s 2013 Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards represent some of the most resilient businesses in Virginia – those that display growth, a dogged entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to community in areas facing high unemployment, high poverty and low entrepreneurial activity.
The Darden School of Business’ Institute for Business in Society, or IBiS, announced the winners Tuesday night at an awards ceremony to honor the 13 finalists. State and local officials, economic development and business leaders from around the commonwealth attended.
“The Resilience Awards recognize small businesses that do things the right way,” said Darden professor and IBiS academic director Greg Fairchild, a nationally known expert on entrepreneurship. “These companies foster innovation, strengthen communities and create jobs. Over the past few years I’ve been amazed at the dedication and perseverance that these business owners demonstrate.”
The recipients were selected from 13 finalists and dozens of Virginia businesses that submitted applications between April 15 and July 31. The winners are:
• Manufacturing/Wholesale Sector: Blue Ridge Optics
From the town of Bedford, Blue Ridge Optics provides the world’s leading aerospace contractors with high-quality, thin film coatings and laser components. Since President Walter Siehien founded the company seven years ago, Blue Ridge Optics has grown from two to 22 employees and become an industry leader. But with more than 90 percent of sales revenue coming from the U.S. military, the company had to restructure its operations last year due to looming cutbacks in defense spending. To diversify its portfolio, Blue Ridge Optics targeted the commercial and medical laser optics industries, shifted marketing and invested in automated manufacturing equipment. In just one year, the company posted sales of 28 percent to commercial and medical sectors while projecting an overall sales increase of 20 percent for 2013. Following its philosophy of planned growth with an emphasis on a retainable, well-compensated employee base will play a major role in Blue Ridge Optics’ long-term success and its positive impact on Bedford.
• Agriculture Sector: Culpeper Farmers’ Cooperative Inc.
Established in 1932 to provide quality service and products that benefit and contribute to the agricultural community, Culpeper Farmers’ Cooperative is a shining example of resilience. For the agriculture industry, the last decade has been marked with unusual volatility – heavily fluctuating market prices and a significant decrease in usable farmland due to increased development. both nationally and locally. In response to these challenges, the cooperative updated credit account practices and streamlined inventories and product offerings at each of its five retail stores. It also became one of only two feed mills in Virginia that are Safe Feed/Safe Food certified, annually purchasing more than 800,000 bushels of locally grown grain. Over the past four years, the cooperative has donated more than $120,000 to 4-H and Future Farmers of America. It provides land for a community garden and, during the summer, hosts a farmers’ market. The cooperative continues to support the counties of Culpeper, Fauquier and Rappahannock with its forward-thinking approach, effective management and community focus.
• Manufacturing/Wholesale Sector: Roberts Awning and Sign
Roberts Awning and Sign has built and installed awnings for Petersburg residents and businesses for more than a century, but owner Bobby Goodwin has his sights on regional growth since starting his own awning business in 2005, acquiring the Roberts name in 2011 and purchasing the assets to regional awning company Norvell earlier this year. Under Goodwin’s management and with a new business model that focuses on authorized dealers, Roberts Awning and Sign has been able to produce greater sales than at any other time in its 100-year history – but not without challenges. At one point, Roberts had to rely on a competitor to perform work for its customers while searching for new leadership to manage its sign operation. Still, the company took time to collect donations after Hurricane Sandy and drove two trailers of supplies to New York on behalf of the Petersburg community. While many manufacturing jobs have moved away from the city and industrial buildings are being repurposed for housing, Roberts Awning and Sign is staying put.
• Service Sector: SHINE Systems & Technologies
SHINE Systems & Technologies, headquartered in Charlottesville, first began generating revenue in 2008, before the financial crisis – a difficult climate for entering the marketplace. But the identity intelligence, analytics, technology and consulting company founded by Jeff Thomas has succeeded in living up to its name, quadrupling its profits in just the last year. With an employee base of nearly 50 percent veterans, SHINE provides intelligence and forensics programs for federal, state and local governments. Following defense budget cuts caused by the federal sequestration, SHINE turned its focus to state contracts, an expansion of law enforcement products and services and strategic consulting for commercial markets. But perhaps SHINE’s greatest challenge has been retaining its federal Small Business Administration-certified HUBZone small business status; with three offices in HUBZones, the company has hired nearly 50 employees living in areas of high unemployment. Committed to these communities, SHINE donates every year to local food banks, toy drops and back-to-school drives. Most recently, the company was recognized as one of the fastest-growing private businesses as a 2013 Inc. 500 recipient.
• Chairman's Award: Container First Services
In 2009, Container First Services purchased a landfill from the City of Petersburg that was facing closure. Renaming it the Tri-Cities Regional Landfill, CFS applied its very own patented, innovative solution using recyclable materials to expand and extend its life. CFS also took on Petersburg’s curbside waste program this year, introduced recycling services and began implementing an educational outreach program for residents and community groups to help revitalize the city. Since Robert Guidry founded the company with 14 employees in 2008, CFS has grown to employ more than 60 and has yet to experience a layoff. The company’s greatest challenge has been keeping up with expansion as it stretches beyond the Tri-Cities region, most recently purchasing the Lunenburg County landfill and opening its second operation. CFS puts 2 percent of revenue back into the communities it serves each year. Last year, the company began an endowed scholarship fund in memory of Grayson Payne Austin, which will recognize one Prince George County student-athlete annually.
In addition to winners in each of the sector categories of agriculture, manufacturing/wholesale, and service, one business is selected for distinction by the chairman of the judging panel, W. Tayloe Murphy Jr. This year, Container First Services received this recognition for displaying outstanding qualities of resilience and commitment to community.
“On behalf of the panel of judges, I would like to congratulate this year’s winners and finalists,” said Murphy, chairman of the judging panel. “These businesses truly embody the word ‘resilience’ and bring real value to their communities and greater society.”
To help spur economic growth and entrepreneurial efforts in hard-hit areas of the commonwealth, Resilience Award winners receive more than recognition. Through media coverage, opportunities to engage key business and government leaders and enrollment in a weeklong Executive Education course at Darden, they gain visibility and resources to help their company and community continue to grow and succeed.
The competition is presented in part by sponsorship from Virginia Business magazine.