Growing Business. Building Community.

A Big Effort to Celebrate our Small Businesses

By Doug Luciani

You’ve heard this said at award shows and ceremonies: “There are so many people I have to thank…I hope I don’t leave anyone out…”

That’s how the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce always feels at the end of its annual Small Business Celebration – so many to thank, so little time. The Small Business Celebration casts a wide net across many people – business owners who take part, their employees, event sponsors, the SBC judges, Chamber members who turn out to support the SBC participants – that it’s difficult to acknowledge everyone that’s grown this initiative over the past 12 years.

But it’s important to express gratitude to the thousands of people who’ve helped grow the Small Business Celebration into what it is today. The SBC isn’t just a single-event program to highlight small business in our region. It’s a series of activities that include nominations, applications, internal and external evaluation, public engagement, promotion, more evaluation – and finally an opportunity to highlight and say “well done” to some of the top small businesses that drive our region’s economy. It spans months

The Small Business Celebration has evolved significantly from its humble origin in 2005. Among the reasons for its longevity and growth are the contributions from business people who’ve gained so much through their own SBC experience. Past recipients of the annual Hagerty Small Business of the Year including Tammy Tarsa of Integrity Home Health and Skilled Care, Kevin Schlueter of Kalkaska Screw Products, Steve Nance of Oryana Natural Foods and Jeanine Rubert of Pine Hill Nursery and Landscaping display their support by continuing their involvement as judges in the SBC. They invest dozens of volunteer hours to share their experiences from previous competitions, and spread their knowledge and know how to current SBC participants. Many businesses, their managers and employees have shared how much they’ve taken away from the SBC simply through their interaction with the judging team. Members of the local SCORE chapter and others also make up this integral cog of the SBC.

The Hagerty family, whose classic car and boat insurance company brand spreads around the world, also brought “cred” to the Small Business Celebration by allowing its story to serve as the award’s inspiration. Each year Hagerty’s leaders not only bring inspiration to the participants but real heft to the program by contributing a $5,000 community donation match and 40 hours of executive consulting services for the Small Business of the Year recipient. That’s no small prize for a business looking to improve itself and grow its community impact.

Hagerty isn’t the only big operation that supports the Small Business Celebration. SBC sponsors Priority Health and Northwestern Michigan College aren’t small businesses, but both understand the major role these companies play in Northern Michigan’s economy. NMC also offers personnel training to the Small Business of the Year, and all of the SBC sponsors and supporters have played a part in growing and bolstering the program.

But in the end, the Small Business Celebration is driven by the people and companies that take part and the Chamber is fortunate to have so many get involved. It takes time and effort for a company to participate in the SBC process. They have to complete a thorough application, prepare for and staff SBC events to showcase themselves, and finalists also spend time with the judges team to talk about their operations. It’s a lot to add to the busy schedule of a small business owner. Even so, many participants exude that their time and effort spent on the SBC pays larger dividends going forward, especially in assessing their own businesses and motivating their staffs.

Our local media gives the Small Business Celebration tremendous coverage, dozens of past SBC participants step up to support the program, and other Chamber businesses and members of the public show up by the hundreds to celebrate, support and learn about our area’s small businesses. This event is truly evidence that small business is what greases the wheels of the region’s economy and that we really are greater together.