Up front: December 2013
In early December, we gather together and share our stories. Some are happy, some sad, all are moving. The small-business owners who attend bring their families, employees and partners to our annual luncheon honoring their success. We discuss the opportunities and challenges of the past year, breathe a collective sigh of relief and take stock of our accomplishments. It’s a small, select group, but that’s how we like it. It’s where our Small Business of the Year winner, who might well be from some place remote from Raleigh, can introduce his mother to the secretary of commerce and one runner-up can debate another on which part of the state has the best barbecue. In many ways, it’s like a family dinner.
This makes 18 years Business North Carolina has held the annual competition and the 13th that Winston-Salem-based BB&T Corp. has sponsored it. For seven of those years, I have been fortunate enough to not only emcee the luncheon but be one of the three judges who pick the winner and runners-up from the finalists our editorial staff culls from the nominees. I have a front-row seat to what makes small business so special to our state.
Winners have been well-known companies such as Winston-Salem-based T.W. Garner Food Co., makers of Texas Pete hot sauce, as well as those known by only a few. Bakers and beekeepers have won. They’re all different, engaged in diverse ventures in every part of the state, yet they find common ground in stories of passion for what they do. Hearing how they overcame obstacles to succeed makes you incredibly optimistic.
Their stories resonate with everyone in the room. There was the woman whose business depended on her traveling throughout the Southeast to organize cheerleading competitions. The problem was, she suffered a severe anxiety attack every time she left her hometown. There was the man who had to overcome a fire and a flood to become one of the world’s best-known makers of cycling socks. The 2010 winner refused to lay off any of his microwelding shop’s employees during the depths of the recent recession simply because he had promised them he wouldn’t, cashing in one of his own certificates of deposit and slashing his salary to make ends meet. It’s not the only time at the luncheon that napkins have done double duty dabbing teary eyes.
I asked BB&T CEO Kelly King for his thoughts on the big role little companies play. “In our state, small businesses contribute significantly to job growth and the development of innovative products and services that contribute to our quality of life. Small businesses are critical to the economic vitality of North Carolina, and we must ensure we have an environment that encourages growth so they can thrive.”
As a small business itself, BNC is pleased to do its part in that. Besides, in today’s fast-moving, rapidly changing world, it’s nice to stop and take the time to listen to passionate people tell their stories, which, beginning on page 48, we’re sharing with you.