From Melfa on the Eastern Shore, to Wise in the Appalachian Mountains, Woodbridge in urban Northern Virginia, Franklin in Tidewater and South Boston in Southside, the five winners represent some of the most resilient businesses in Virginia – those that displayed growth, a dogged entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to community in areas facing high unemployment, high poverty and low entrepreneurial activity, the contest's organizers said.
The 14 finalists were honored Wednesday night at an awards ceremony held in the Dome Room of the Rotunda and attended by state and local officials, economic development and business leaders and representatives of the Darden School of Business, home of the Tayloe Murphy Center.
"These winners represent resilience in the classic sense of the word," said Greg Fairchild, executive director of the Tayloe Murphy Center. "In the face of some daunting challenges, they have bent, but not broken, adapted and become stronger for their efforts.
"With annual double-digit growth rates in profit and employment and a clear commitment to their communities, these Main Street businesses have accomplished something that anyone interested in business would do well to learn from."
The winners were chosen from among 88 contenders. Listed alphabetically with their citations, they are:
• Chairman's Award: Blue Crab Bay Co./Bay Beyond Inc., Melfa. For a quarter-century, the Blue Crab Bay Co. has safely navigated the perils facing small businesses on the Eastern Shore. The internationally recognized specialty foods producer has come back from a fire, weathered a recession and successfully reached beyond what some might view as an isolated location to a larger market seeking their high-quality specialty foods. Their location is the source and inspiration of many of their products, including clam-juice infused Bloody Mary mix and bay-seasoned spicy snacks. In addition to the scores of jobs it has kept in the community over many years, it is a beacon for other businesses and a testament to resilience on the Eastern Shore.
• Service Sector: Highground Services Inc., Franklin. When their No. 1 customer – the largest employer in Franklin – announced it was closing its paper plant and laying off 1,100 workers in 2009, it was a dramatic blow to Highground Services. Yet the engineering and consulting firm, formed in 2006, trudged on, even hiring 24 employees who were laid off at the plant. Many of their new hires helped form relationships with new customers, and today, the company boasts multiple "anchor" clients. Along the way, the firm bolstered its ability to seek government contracts by locating in an area underutilized by businesses. The firm not only located its headquarters in the so-called HUBZone, but many of their employees live there also.
• Manufacturing/Wholesale Sector: Lindstrand USA Inc., South Boston. With the arrival of Lindstrand USA in 2004, a new high-tech industry took off in South Boston and Halifax County. As the maker of lighter-than-air cell technology, Lindstrand expanded to the area to target government contracts, including projects in aeronautics, although the technology can be used in a variety of ways, including fighting tunnel fires or using logging balloons for forestry work. The versatile product was the brainchild of Swedish-born inventor and expert hot air balloonist Per Lindstrand. Since its arrival, Lindstrand USA has faced many challenges, forcing it to diversify and navigate logistic and bureaucratic hurdles. Today it employs 31 full-time workers locally, nearly 90 percent of whom were out of work for longer than two years prior to being hired. In an area that has seen the decline of the tobacco, furniture and textiles industries, Lindstrand USA is a strong contributor to the economic base.
• Agriculture Sector: MountainRose Vineyards Inc., Wise. MountainRose Vineyards coaxes award-winning wines from previously coal-mined soil and jobs from a rocky local economy. As owners of the only winery for miles, the Lawson family struck out in 2004 to make a great product. Along the way, they helped spawn a new industry in the heart of coal country. Using sustainable farming methods, MountainRose today grows 11 varieties of wine grapes on nearly 13 acres and produces 14 different wines. They look confidently to the future, no matter the terrain ahead.
• Retail Sector: Todos Super Market, Woodbridge. With the opening of a new 50,000-square-foot grocery store in April, Todos SuperMarket celebrates a milestone. It's only recently that business has returned to levels seen before the foreclosure crisis decimated adjacent neighborhoods. In an area marked by Latino immigration that has sparked heated debate, founder Carlos Castro has also worked to bridge cultural and community divides. During these tough times, he grew his business by improving efficiency and providing excellent customer service. Now Castro looks to the future, hoping his new anchor store at Marumsco Plaza will play a key role in the revitalization of U.S. 1 in Woodbridge.
"On behalf of the members of the panel of judges that selected the winners in this year's Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards competition, I extend to them my congratulations and my hope that they will continue to demonstrate the resilience that won for them the year's recognition," commented W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., chairman of the judging panel.
In addition to winners in each sector category, Murphy gave Blue Crab Bay/Bay Beyond Inc. the Chairman's Award.
The winners receive more than recognition. Through media coverage, opportunities to engage key business and government leaders and free tuition for a week-long executive education course at Darden – valued at $8,000 to $12,000 – they gain visibility and resources to help their company and community continue to grow and succeed.
The Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards were presented in part by sponsorship from Virginia Business magazine.