2010 National Small Business Leaders: Lifting America’s Spirits and the Economy

It was great to have an opportunity to participate in the 2010 National Small Business Week events here in Washington, DC, this week. My role was to coordinate on-site interviews with the event’s videographer, so I was lucky enough to get a bird’s-eye view of some of the exceptional award winners and sponsors of this year’s celebration.

A major part of the excitement for the winners was the chance to hear directly from President Obama at a Rose Garden event Tuesday morning (see the video).

What a fine group of small business people and champions! All of them have confronted challenges—the Louisiana winners, Stephen and Rose Lemarie, had just gotten ready to break ground for their veterinary business when Katrina struck in 2005, so they opened a 24-hour emergency facility to provide veterinary care to pets that had been displaced or rescued in the aftermath of the hurricane.

 The winners of the “Phoenix” awards for contributions to disaster recovery included Elda Najera-Suisala and Lori Sword, who worked tirelessly to rescue and provide relief to special needs children and remote survivors of an earthquake and tsunami that hit American Samoa in September 2009. Another Phoenix award winner was Mayor Dennis Walaker of Fargo, North Dakota, who, rather than evacuating his town, mobilized the entire able-bodied population to fill sandbags, preventing a devastating flood of the city in March 2009.  

 I was also impressed by the panelists and participants in the three National Small Business Week forums, who brought both great questions and a world of practical expertise about small business innovation, exporting, and social media. At the exporting forum, panelists pointed to the wealth of export assistance resources available to small businesses. Sponsor Dale Hayes of UPS encouraged would-be exporters “not to let anyone tell you you can’t export! There is a market and an opportunity—you just have to find it.” He added that exporting “puts you in a much better position to weather economic cycles.” Many of these sessions—along with a summary video of the entire National Small Business Week event—will be posted on the National Small Business Week website.

 As the closing luncheon in honor of the state small business winners drew to a close, SBA Administrator Karen Mills announced the National Small Business Person of the Year—Waymon Armstrong of Orlando, Florida, whose firm uses cutting-edge technology to respond to disasters, emergencies, and times of war. What was truly impressive was the story of his commitment to his staff. For three years, he deferred his own salary to get the company off the ground, and after the September 11 attacks, as revenues declined, his staff returned the favor, voluntarily working without pay for four months to avoid layoffs. Today the company provides staff with full insurance, every other Friday off, monthly appreciation lunches, a profit sharing plan, and on-site massage therapy. Waymon accepted the award with thanks to his staff and family—and with a standing ovation from the National Small Business Week crowd—a crowd of award winners that is truly worthy of celebration.

 —Kathryn Tobias

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