By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce honored organizations throughout the city at its annual Best in Business awards ceremony on Oct. 18.
At the ceremony, the chamber recognized seven Businesses of the Year in different categories and named Bill Blackburn Alexandria’s 2017 Business Leader of the Year.
Association / Nonprofit Business of the Year went to Rebuilding Together Alexandria, Rising Star Business of the Year went to Four Directions Wellness, Small Business of the Year went to the GEICO NOVA Local Office, Medium Business of the Year was a tie between Fleet Transportation and VIPdesk Connect, Inc., Large Business of the Year went to United Bank and Overall Business of the Year went to Ironistic, a website design and marketing company.
There was an outpouring of positive community response when Blackburn, a partner at Home Grown Restaurant Group, was named Business Leader of the Year, according to Joe Haggerty, president and CEO of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.
“I feel like we were really able to identify an up-and-coming leader and recognize him,” Haggerty said.
Blackburn said he hadn’t seen it coming when Haggerty and Dak Hardwick visited him at Pork Barrel BBQ, one of the five restaurants in the Home Grown Restaurant Group, to tell him he had won.
“I thought they were going to ask me to be a sponsor or donate some food,” Blackburn said. “When they told me I had been selected to be the Business Leader of the Year, I was shocked.”
Blackburn has been in the restaurant business since 2000. He has also served as president of the Del Ray Business Association and on the Alexandria Small Business Development board. In his acceptance speech, he attributed his successes to his business partners, “Mango” Mike and Donna Anderson, who he said had been the most important role models in his life besides his parents. Mike is a previous recipient of the Business Leader of the Year award.
The Best in Business awards are designed to recognize individuals and companies that set themselves apart as leaders in Alexandria.
Blackburn said he works to be not only a business leader, but a community leader.
“Working hard to support the community, and working inside the business and outside the front door, really has made me more visible, and kind of a community leader as well as a business leader,” Blackburn said.
“I think that we do a good job of keeping things local,” he said. “All of our restaurants are locally owned and operated, and we’re not chains, so we understand the dynamics of Alexandria and are able to give back and be really involved in the community, more so than a Panera Bread or a Chipotle would.”
The Business Leader of the Year award was the only winner announced before the awards ceremony. The others awards are presented the night of the ceremony from a pool of nominees who apply through an intense application process. A committee of previous
winners reviews all of the submitted materials to select the winners.
“We try to make it like the Academy Awards, the Academy Awards for Alexandria,” Haggerty said.
“We judge all our nominees based on seven different criteria,” said Lovie Patish, director of events and sponsorship at the Chamber of Commerce, “which include chamber involvement, charitable involvement, customer testimonials, clearly designed business activity, the impact of their business – items like that, as far as our overall rubric, so to speak.”
Rita Foss is the CEO of Ironistic, winner of the Overall Business of the Year award.
She said when she had applied to the Medium Business of the Year category, she hadn’t known the “overall” category existed.
“After they passed through the medium, we were like, ‘Alright, well, better luck next year,’ so it just completely threw us off. What an honor,” Foss said. “It just humbled us. We knew we were doing good work, but for us to be overall in Alexandria was just stunning.”
Both Foss and Blackburn expressed gratitude for the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and the supportive business community in the city.
“The community, I really feel supports each other immensely, you know, whether anyone else recognizes their accomplishments,” Foss said.
“It’s really a wonderful feeling, and I’m so happy that we decided to open the business in the city of Alexandria.”