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SBA’s award-winners boosting small business in Mississippi

When Ennis King’s name was called at the annual U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Awards Luncheon, he sprang from his seat while his wife, Marie, beamed.

After spending the last 41 years behind a desk at First State Bank of Waynesboro, most recently working out deals for small business owners, King was recognized as Mississippi’s Financial Services Champion of the Year.

“It was definitely an honor for me to be nominated and selected to receive this recognition because at First State Bank, our motto is ‘Serving you is what we do best,’” said King, community bank president and executive vice president of credit of First State Bank of Waynesboro, who was eager to share his award with his three children and four grandchildren.

A Waynesboro native, King was selected for the award because of his outstanding efforts, either directly or through advocacy, to increase the availability of financial capital to small business owners. After Hurricane Katrina, King and his staff offered adversely impacted customers “skip-a-pay,” loan payment deferrals and other programs designed to help them manage their financial situation.

“It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve,” said King. “I’ve always strived to treat my customers like I’d expect to be treated.”

In addition to honoring King and the 2006 Small Business Person of the Year — Craig Harvey, CIO of NVision Solutions Inc. in Bay St. Louis — the SBA Mississippi district office honored eight award-winners and the top fiscal year 2005 lenders during a luncheon at the Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino in Biloxi June 20. The Coast Coca-Cola Bottling, BellSouth Services, Northrop Grumman, Harrah’s Entertainment/Grand Biloxi and the Mississippi Business Journal hosted the SBA Awards Luncheon Program, which featured keynote speaker Brig. Gen. Robert Crear, commander of the Mississippi Valley division and president-designee of the Mississippi River Commission for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Most of these winners work behind the scenes unnoticed,” said SBA district director Janita Stewart. “We wanted to give them the recognition they deserve for their contributions to small businesses across Mississippi.”

Awards luncheon a celebration

At the awards luncheon, Tish Williams was particularly overjoyed with the camaraderie of the winners. For Williams, executive director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce in Bay St. Louis, winning one of two Outstanding Contribution to Disaster Recovery awards was a bright spot in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“The first thing I think about is (this award) is not about me,” said Williams. “It’s about recognizing the work of a community of small businesses that demonstrated outstanding leadership during the most challenging and unexpected time in our history. It’s about testing our true grit and determination to achieve results against all odds. It’s reassuring too to not only look at how our local businesses responded to the disaster (but to also) look at the response that our state and federal agencies came together to work with our local business, community and governmental leaders to achieve the goals.”

In the dark days following the Category Four storm, Williams was a businesswoman on a mission: to actively and aggressively help rebuild her community, located in the hardest-hit county in Mississippi. She evacuated to Jackson after nine feet of water flooded her home and six feet of water flooded her chamber office and, using her personal cell phone, began dialing private, local, state and federal agencies to locate resources and assistance.

She quickly located a temporary home for the Hancock Chamber in the Coast Electric Conference Center’s makeshift Business Assistance Center (BAC) while also adjusting to living with her family in a small travel trailer.

“What motivates me is this: it’s just what you are supposed to do,” said Williams. “It’s what my father and mother did. It’s what my grandparents did. It’s what’s expected.”

Williams facilitated the creation of a “one stop” BAC September 21, 2005, by consolidating the Mississippi Small Business Development Center, SBA Disaster Assistance, Mississippi Development Authority and Hancock Chamber in a single location. The WIN Job Center was later added.

She recruited chambers of commerce nationwide and other benefactors to “adopt” Hancock County and assist in rebuilding the county’s business infrastructure. More than 1,000 small businesses applied for SBA physical damage and/or economic injury loans at the BAC; more than 4,000 customers were served.

“The Hancock Chamber provided coordinating leadership to bring resources together to achieve a common goal: to help small businesses,” she said. “State and federal agencies provided leadership and resources to make it happen. What has emerged is a national model for disaster recovery, recognized by the national SBA and the Mississippi SBA.”

As Hurricane Katrina approached the Mississippi Coast, Brice Phillips loaded his van with transmitters and extra antennas and relocated WQRZ radio to the county’s emergency operations center.

As the storm surge waters reached the building’s second level, Phillips rigged his car batteries to power the station’s broadcasting of search and rescue information. WQRZ was one of only four Gulf Coast radio stations that stayed on the air in the early days after the hurricane struck.

“I just did what I had to do,” said Phillips. “You serve the community where you live, even when different environmental aspects are being thrown at you from every direction.”

Williams and Phillips were also recognized in Washington, D.C., at the SBA National Small Business Week event in April with SBA’s Phoenix Award for efforts as a public official and a volunteer, respectively.

Joan Branson: Minority Small Business Champion

Based on her work to advance minority small business interests and improve conditions in the minority small business community, Glenn Lynd, director of material acquisitions for Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, nominated the soft-spoken Joan Branson for Mississippi’s Minority Small Business Champion.

Branson, sector manager and small business liaison officer for Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, has served as a mentor and advocate of hundreds of minority suppliers and small disadvantaged businesses by developing numerous systems, recognition programs and tools to enhance their opportunities. For example, under her leadership, Northrop Grumman’s “Small Disadvantaged Business” expenditures were increased by 80% from 2004 to 2005.

“Working with the small business community is an honor,” said Branson. “Working with the small business community and large business is an opportunity to bring together a wealth of information and potential opportunity for everyone. Sharing values such as leadership and integrity with people and suppliers is everyone’s responsibility at Northrop Grumman. It’s my responsibility to pass on knowledge of how to do business with North Grumman and this is a privilege for me. To be associated and working together with the SBA is like being part of a team with never-ending knowledge. And so, to be recognized by the leaders of the SBA, it is a very humbling experience and the most exciting honor in my professional career as a Small Business Liaison Officer.”

Recovering from historic disaster

Mississippi Small Business Development Center state director Doug Gurley and Gulfport-based Hancock Bank CEO George Schloegel and their staffs were also honored for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery.
Within a month of Katrina, Hancock Bank established Small Business Development Center loan centers strategically located throughout the six-county coastal region. Additionally, the bank — an SBA Express Lender since 2002 — was one of the first area financial institutions to proactively endorse the SBA Gulf Opportunity Pilot Loan (GO Loan) Program, a post-storm initiative designed to streamline, centralize, and expedite SBA guaranty authorization and loan approval for small businesses in declared disaster areas.

Expanded Saturday banking locations and hours at area Hancock Bank branches also enabled small business owners to conduct transactions essential to restoring business operations.

“Small businesses represent 99% of the nation’s employers and are the backbones of our economy. Hancock Bank was founded on a commitment to help local families and businesses succeed, and we’re privileged to be able to help small business owners across the Gulf Coast return to business-as-usual,” said Schloegel.

Adrian Jones and Moreh Smith: Young Entrepreneurs of the Year

Adrian Jones and Moreh Smith of RedLaser Technology were selected SBA Young Entrepreneurs of the Year for Mississippi, and immediately advanced to regional winners in their category. Their business is one of several success stories emanating from the Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA) Innovation Center in Jackson, which opened in 2003 to house startup technology companies.

One of three Top FY 2005 lenders for Mississippi is headquartered in the Magnolia State. For the second time, Pontotoc-based Three Rivers Local Development Co. Inc. was named SBA’s Top Certified Development Company. In FY 05, Three Rivers approved 11 loans totaling $6.45 million.
Oakland, Ca.-based Innovative Bank was named the SBA’s Top Volume Lender for Mississippi. In FY 05, the bank approved 171 small business loans, primarily through the SBA’s Community Express Loan Program. The SBA Mississippi district office reported a 36% increase in volume in FY 05 over the prior year, mainly because of the increase in loans made through this program. Innovative Bank tapped Sandra Edwards, one of the bank’s top 10 technical assistance providers, to receive the award on its behalf.

For the second time, SBA recognized El Dorado, Ark.-based First Financial Bank (FFB) as Mississippi’s Top Dollar Lender. Through its office in Carthage, FFB made 103 loans totaling $48.5 million to small businesses through SBA loan programs in FY 05.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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