Story and video by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand and Katie Meyer
The community leadership of two businesses, one nonprofit, and one volunteer was celebrated this morning at the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce‘s annual Westside Awards breakfast. Guests also heard a third-generation West Seattleite tell the tale of how a small business founded here gave birth to a multi-million-dollar company operating worldwide.
Almost 90 nominations came in for this year’s Westside Awards, presented in a packed room at Salty’s on Alki. Though the winners were announced last week, the fun came in seeing the joyful presentations and acceptances today:
Honored as Business of the Year was Ventana Construction (WSB sponsor), whose owners Anne and Clarence Higuera accepted the award, after words of tribute from Chamber board vice-chair Nancy Woodland, who lauded Ventana as “really good people who make the community proud.” Anne in turn talked about their pride in their employees, their work, and in supporting the community. Here’s our video of the introduction and acceptance speech:
Ventana recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Nonprofit of the Year was accepted by someone else marking a milestone, Nature Consortium founder Nancy Whitlock, who announced recently that she is going on sabbatical, starting to step away from the thriving organization she founded 15 years ago.
Woodland read from nomination forms including one that said simply, “Nature Consortium rocks!” Whitlock said the timing of the award was perfect:
Among the many achievements of the NC: It has planted more than 40,000 trees to help restore the West Duwamish Greenbelt here in West Seattle, and has been “weaving (its work) together with the arts,” including art education for youth.
From youth to seniors, community members of all ages are enjoying the results of a dream come true, first dreamed by the Westsider of the Year recipient, Lauren Englund. Her brainchild, the West Seattle Bee Garden, recently opened with a celebration and parade:
Lauren was introduced by Trish Throop, who noted that those who nominated her described her in so many positive ways, from kind to inspirational. Lauren herself said the idea had naysayers – until a wide section of the community learned about it, and embraced it:
The Bee Garden has a fundraiser coming up next week, by the way – read about it here.
Last but by no means least, honored as Emerging Business was Sozo Wines, for its tradition of “giving back.” The name “Sozo” means “to rescue,” said Stefan Persson, who accepted the award:
Sozo partners with local food banks and has helped provide 14,000 meals as a result, he said. They also partner with restaurants, but “a portion of any sale” – including retail – “goes back to the community,” he noted.
History was celebrated today as well as recent achievements; Chamber board chair Dave Montoure pointed out that the “West Seattle Chamber has been here for 90 years.” And the keynote speaker spun a tale with deep West Seattle roots:
Randy Gardiner of Red Dot – “we don’t make dots, by the way,” he laughed – was introduced by Montoure as a third-generation West Seattleite, though his company making heating/air conditioning equipment for commercial and military vehicles is now headquartered in Tukwila.
He said the story of his company also began 90 years ago, like the Chamber, when his grandfather “Harky” Runnings arrived in the area and eventually went to work for Boeing, until opening West Seattle Radiator in what’s now The Wax Bar‘s location in The Triangle. “Amazing how companies evolve,” he quipped as the audience laughed. He talked about how his grandfather founded the company at age 55 and how it became an employee-owned company more than 30 years later. Here’s part of his speech:
He also shared lessons from which other businesses could learn – including how he and his senior management are talking about “graduation,” about their businesses’ future without them, and how important it is to bring others into the business. He also talked about his company’s outreach to future potential employees – through FIRST Robotics sponsorship, through offering summer internships. “Bringing students into our business was an eye-opener,” he said – and it was heartening, as the students “wanted to come back.” He described internships as a “test drive” for both the company checking out possible future employees, and vice versa, as well as to enable them to connect with educators. “We have two silos in our society – the education silo and the business silo,” he said, exhorting those on hand to “help make learning relevant.” Three million students are graduated from high school every year; two million go to college, one million don’t, and that’s a resource that needs to be embraced, Gardiner advised.
Montoure remarked afterward that the speech was inspirational – making him think about reaching out to his alma mater, West Seattle High School, to look into that kind of partnership.
For this morning’s event, local businesses had integral roles behind the scenes, as always. This year’s centerpieces were glass art created by Avalon Glassworks and offered for sale. Nucor Steel was again the presenting sponsor for the event and announced that a longtime executive familiar in the community will be retiring soon – safety/environmental manager Bart Kale, who promised in a brief speech at the podium that Nucor “would continue its long relationship with the community.”
Coming up on the Chamber calendar: June 20th, lunch with State Rep. Eileen Cody, and June 27th, an “After-Hours” gathering, this time at ArtsWest in The Junction. Find out more about these events and others, as well as Chamber membership (we signed up our business in 2008, its first full year), by going to wschamber.com.
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