Manatee Chamber of Commerce awards small businesses, nonprofit

Manatee Chamber of Commerce recognizes 3 businesses, 1 nonprofit

On Friday the Manatee Chamber of Commerce recognized three area small businesses and one nonprofit at its 37th annual Small Business of the Year Awards.
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On Friday the Manatee Chamber of Commerce recognized three area small businesses and one nonprofit at its 37th annual Small Business of the Year Awards.

When the Manatee Chamber of Commerce awards small businesses each year, chamber representatives look for job growth, customer service, business expansion and support of the Manatee County community.

This year, winners ranged from companies in charge of party planning to publishing to keeping homes cool during the heat of Florida’s relentless summer. And for the first time in the 37-year history of the Small Business Awards, the chamber awarded one nonprofit for its contributions to Manatee County.

Realize Bradenton, the nonprofit economic development organization that won the award, seeks to “build the positive reputation of our community as a great place to live, work, play and stay,” the organization’s application for the award reads. Established in 2010, Realize Bradenton has worked to unite community members, organizations and assets around their central goal. The nonprofit touts the Bradenton Riverwalk, the Village of the Arts and PopUps for a Purpose as visual examples of their success.

“This award represents recognition of the power and importance of nonprofits all over Manatee County,” said Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton. “Because nonprofits are businesses that drive residents, tourists and other businesses to our community. And Realize Bradenton is certainly pleased to be the first of many nonprofits to be recognized as small business of the year.”

Nonprofits are businesses that drive residents, tourists and other businesses to our community.

Johnette Isham, Executive Director, Realize Bradenton

The other three awards went to companies with sales of $249,000 and under, between $250,000 and $1 million, and $1.1 million to $6.5 million. Each year, the chamber adjusts sales award categories based on the applicants for the awards.

“We try to make it as fair as we can,” said Michael Gallen, the chamber’s vice president of public policy and small business.

The chamber first accepts nominations for the awards and this year received more than 100 nods for individuals and businesses. The nominees are then asked to fill out applications. Five judges, made up of past winners, judge the nominees based on the application and an interview. The winners are then chosen based on application and interview scores.

L.A. Events Inc. started 18 years ago when owner Lisa Arrigo Hoban started her own event-planning business. Hoban aims to take party ideas from clients and turn them into full-blown extravaganzas. And with that, Hoban takes the stress out of planning events for as small as 50 guests and as large as 5,000. Hoban’s L.A. Events handles everything from the event’s theme to catering to decorations and invitations, all while working within the budget of clients.

“Third time’s a charm,” Hoban said. “It absolutely means the world to me, and I’ll grow and expand from this wonderful experience. The other contestants were absolutely amazing as well, so I’m very humbled to win the award.”

Through the chamber’s multiple networking events and exposure opportunities, members can connect with each other and help others connect to the Manatee County community. And the winner of this year’s $250,000 to $1 million category helps customers connect to neighbors and helps businesses connect with the community in one fell swoop.

Ellenton-based PCI Communications Inc. provides phone books to more than 200 communities throughout Florida and has done so for more than 40 years. The company collects information for and assembles print and online directories, where local companies can take advantage of advertising space.

“We’re really honored and thankful for the community and their support and for our amazing employees and team, who really make our business what it is,” said Valerie Longo, one half of the team who owns PCI Communications.

“Valerie is the brains behind the operations; I’m just the bookkeeper,” said Valerie’s husband and PCI Communications co-owner Lenny Longo. “I think this is going to challenge her to do even bigger and better things for the community; more nonprofit work, more school work, helping out and give back.”

The winner of the largest sales category is, to no surprise, a heating and cooling company. Anthony’s Cooling Heating Electrical provides 24-hour same-day service to customers in both Manatee and Sarasota counties to assure they stay comfortable through the famous Florida heat. The company was established in 1988 and since then, founder Michael Zeppi has worked to bolster the Manatee County technical education scene. The company’s biggest obstacle has been finding solid, trained technicians, Zeppi said in his application. But even with the struggle to find its members, he attributed the win to his team.

“Being an overnight success happens in a second after 28 years of working hard,” Zeppi said. “My team made it possible. Without them, I’m just a single guy.”

Small businesses make up 98.9 percent of businesses in the Sunshine State and employ 3.1 million people, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday

Winners of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce 37th annual Small Business Awards

  • L.A. Events Inc.
  • PCI Communities Inc.
  • Anthony’s Cooling Heating Electrical
  • Realize Bradenton