Some have been run by families for generations; others are startups founded with a dream. All have endured a brutal recession, exacerbated by fire, bankruptcy, illness or steadfast competition. They display unwavering will, bridge cultural divides, support local charities and bring economic hope to areas of Virginia from which industry has fled. Above all, they are resilient.
The Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards honor the most resilient businesses in Virginia – those which display growth, a dogged entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to community in areas facing high unemployment, high poverty and low entrepreneurial activity. The competition is held by Initiative for Business in Society at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.
Five winners will be announced at a Sept. 5 dinner, reception and awards presentation at Darden’s Abbott Center, where finalists will join state and local officials, economic development and business leaders and Darden representatives.
To help spur economic growth and entrepreneurial efforts in hard-hit areas of the Commonwealth, Tayloe Murphy Resilience Award winners receive more than recognition from one of the best business schools in the country. Through ongoing media coverage, opportunities to engage key business and government leaders, and enrollment in a weeklong Executive Education course at Darden – valued at between $8,000 and $12,000 – Resilience Award winners will gain visibility and resources to help their company and community continue to grow and succeed.
The Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards are presented in part by sponsorship from Virginia Business magazine.
“The goal of the Resilience Awards is to bring well-deserved attention to highly successful businesses in parts of Virginia that some might unwisely overlook,” said Greg Fairchild, associate professor of business administration. “These finalists demonstrate the strength of Virginia’s main street businesses, even in the face of significant economic obstacles. In 2011, this group of businesses collectively employed almost 400 Virginians and had an aggregated sales total of nearly $200 million. These firms embody resilience.”
The following 11 finalists, listed alphabetically, were chosen from among 21 semifinalists and 59 total Virginia businesses that submitted applications to the Resilience Awards website between April 30 and July 2:
• A Bowl of Good Café Inc., Harrisonburg
When landlords raised the rent, owners of A Bowl of Good Café had to make a tough decision: Pay more, or start over in a new location without much equipment and risk losing customers. Owners Katrina Didot and Rachael Rose gave up their storefront, took out a favorable loan and moved into a new, eco-friendly space to continue providing quality “slow food, served fast.” The new location has served them well and a second location is in the works. As a way to give back to the community, A Bowl of Good Café supports many local charities and, for the past two years, has raised money for Haiti relief efforts – more than $4,000 in 2011. Didot and Rose also look to promote understanding of different cultures around the world with events like Haiti Market night, weekly international story time and the World Cup, viewed live at the restaurant.
• Ballard Fish & Oyster Co. Inc., Cheriton
For more than a century, the Ballard family has run its namesake seafood business on the Eastern Shore. Today Chad Ballard III, who represents the fifth generation to run the business, oversees a sustainable aquaculture operation that raises clams and six types of oysters. Since taking the helm in 2008, Ballard has ushered in a new era of growth, diversified the product mix and expanded into new markets. Ballard Fish & Oyster Co. Inc. is the country’s leading producer of farm-raised, hard-shell clams, growing more than 75 million annually. The company is also one of the largest employers in Northampton County, with more than 170 employees.
• EXCEL Management Services Inc., Richmond
From 1999 to 2008, EXCEL Staffing Services Inc., a 100 percent woman- and minority-owned temporary staffing agency, placed job-seekers in a variety of positions, ranging from administrative and technical to custodial and construction. During the recession of 2008, EXCEL Staffing Services Inc. was stripped of a fourth of its workforce, experienced detrimental insurance and unemployment compensation expense and was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Today, this Richmond-based company has successfully reorganized and recovered. Renamed EXCEL Management Services Inc., it now provides program management and staff augmentation services to federal, local and state governments as well as the private sector. The agency will soon move to a new location with its sister non-profit, Another Chance to EXCEL. EXCEL President Billie Brown founded the organization when she saw the recession further affect unskilled workers in the community. Another Chance to EXCEL provides vocational, social and life skills training to ex-offenders and disadvantaged youth. Brown’s philosophy in all her endeavors: Help somebody. Lift someone up.
• Griffith Lumber Company, Woolwine
The Griffith family has run its Patrick County sawmill operation for four generations, selling wholesale lumber and byproducts such as wood chips, sawdust, biomass fuel and bark mulch to customers around the world. In 2009, Griffith Lumber Company and its neighbors faced difficult times. Furniture and forest product plants and textile mills had closed, shipping production and jobs overseas. And a major fire roared through the company’s sawmill, putting 40 people out of work and the Griffith family at a crossroads. Should they take the insurance money and retire, or rebuild? They chose the latter, leasing two nearby sawmills to keep their employees working while they rebuilt their own burned-down mill. More than 100 jobs were created or saved through this collaboration.
• Hubbard Peanut Co. Inc., Sedley
During its nearly 60 years in business, the Hubbard Peanut Company has endured numerous setbacks, including a fire that destroyed a key part of their facility, the closure of the local paper mill and challenges beyond their control within the peanut industry. Despite these obstacles, the company – most recognized for its Hubs brand peanuts – has persevered. Dot and HJ Hubbard started the Sedley-based company in 1954 using a unique peanut cooking process, and their daughter, President Lynne Rabil, continues to manage it with their founding values and the welfare of the community in mind. The company’s location in a disadvantaged area has inspired Hubbard to support local schools. Owners and managers lead many civic organizations and helped form a JROTC program at Franklin High School. Despite continuing challenges, the company still gives back through “Helping Through Hubs,” a program that returns a percentage of sales to nonprofits that buy its product.
• ODUrent.com, Norfolk
Where others saw only aging, run-down neighborhoods plagued by crime, dilapidated buildings and weed-choked properties, Thanos Polizos saw opportunity. In 1999, he began purchasing and renovating multi-family properties in Norfolk’s Lamberts Point and Highland Park neighborhoods adjacent to his alma mater, Old Dominion University. Thirteen years later, with more than 100 properties and 500 student tenants, Polizos’ company, ODUrent.com, has a 99 percent occupancy rate and is the University’s largest off-campus housing provider. Property values in the neighborhoods have increased with a commensurate decrease in crime. Today, the ODUrent.com portfolio of properties is valued at $25 million.
• Office Plus Business Centre, Danville
Since its founding 75 years ago, the Haynsworth family-owned Office Plus Business Centre has endured four moves, a fire, the death of its founder and second-generation president, and renaming of the company five times. Its newest challenge: big-box retailers and their Internet sales. Yet, the business, now in its fourth generation, has adapted. It formed a key relationship with the nation’s largest office products buying group, added new product categories to supplement sales and re-focused the business to the founder’s original business model. It also engages employees and, most of all, remains committed to quality customer service “after the sale.” The company rewards customers for shopping on its Internet site, and in-store customers often leave with a courtesy bottle of water. As chairman of the Danville Pittsylvania Chamber of Commerce and someone who knows the value of community sustenance, President Charles Haynsworth III has been working on a campaign that encourages support of all locally owned businesses in the community.
• Service Center Metals, Prince George
In the decade since its founding, aluminum extrusion manufacturer Service Center Metals has become a benchmark for American manufacturing, recognized as an industry leader in innovation and customer service. The company was formed by former Reynolds Metals Company executives R. Scott Kelley, R. Randolph “Randy” Weis and Lloyd S. “Chip” Dollins Jr., who worked a combined 39 years for the country’s second-largest aluminum manufacturer. Today, SCM has the second-largest market share in the industry and employs 120 individuals producing superior quality rod, bar, pipe, angles, channels, I-beams and custom shapes. From its Prince George facility, SCM supplies extruded aluminum shapes exclusively to aluminum service centers, which resell products to manufacturers. The company has sold more than a half-billion pounds of extrusions to the service center industry.
• Silver Gallery, Waynesboro
Stephen Dahl and Stacey Strawn founded Silver Gallery in 2002 as an online retailer of silver and pewter gifts, but the couple quickly ran into problems after expanding the business from their living room to a location in downtown Waynesboro. With the rising price of silver, increased shipping costs and website traffic constantly in flux, the Internet and mail order business had much to overcome. Despite these challenges, Silver Gallery landed the job as official provider of silver picture frames as celebrity gifts for the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The company has provided these gifts for the past seven years and added the Tony Awards to its client list last year. Since moving downtown, the couple has purchased two more storefront buildings and committed the company to helping revitalize Waynesboro. They provide space at a greatly reduced rate in one of their buildings to the Bindi Dog Yoga studio, which offers free or low-cost yoga classes to the community.
• Stuart Land & Cattle Co. of VA, Rosedale
The National Cattlemen’s Association has designated Stuart Land & Cattle Co. of VA as the oldest continuously run, family-managed beef cattle operation in the United States. It has existed since 1774 and remains committed to being a good steward of the land and its resources, serving the community and being profitable. The company continuously innovates, implementing more effective breeding processes and management practices to keep its high-quality products affordable for consumers. To underscore Stuart Land & Cattle’s commitment to humane treatment of its livestock, company owners took employees to a talk by Temple Grandin, a renowned animal welfare expert. Most of the employees live on the farm with their families, and they’re often provided housing even after retirement. Stuart Land & Cattle’s inventive practices and dedicated employees will ensure they continue to remain one of the 2 percent of Americans who continue to farm.
• Sunset Digital Communications Inc., Duffield
Sunset Digital Communications Inc. is the 21st-century equivalent of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Whereas the TVA provided electricity to rural homes and businesses, Sunset Digital Communications provides fast, reliable and affordable Internet connectivity to unserved and underserved areas of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. Founded in 2003, Sunset envisioned and constructed a state-of-the-art fiber optic network to provide broadband services that foster economic development and ultimately improve the quality of life of its customers. Under the leadership of CEO Paul Elswick, Sunset has pioneered the laying of fiber optic with water lines, cutting the cost of building regional fiber optic networks. COO Ryan Elswick has directed Sunset’s operations from a startup to a company with just under $3 million in revenue in nine short years.