They have survived fires, isolated locations, big-box competition and a crippling recession. Their innovations include lighter-than-air cell technology and a special process used to clean boats in the Gulf oil disaster. They display dramatic growth, bridge cultural divides, support local charities and bring economic hope to areas of Virginia where industries have fled. Above all, they are resilient.
These are the stories behind the 14 finalists the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and its Tayloe Murphy Center announced today will compete for five winning spots this September in the second annual Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards competition.
The following finalists, listed alphabetically, were chosen from among 21 semi-finalists and 88 total Virginia businesses that completed applications online between May 2 and June 30:
A Bowl of Good Cafe, Inc., Harrisonburg
When landlords raised the rent, A Bowl of Good Café had to make a tough decision: Pay more or start over without much of their kitchen equipment and risk losing their customers. They rolled the dice, took out a favorable loan and moved into a new, custom-made store and are back to making their quality “slow food, served fast.” The partners, Katrina Didot and Rachael Dorsey, worked with staff on a grassroots campaign to let patrons know about the move, along the way, building a mailing list and social media network. The café has kept up community relations, hosting a World Cup event and raising nearly $15,000 to support earthquake relief in Haiti.
Astyra Corporation, Richmond
Named one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. three years in a row by Inc. magazine, Astyra has excelled despite stiff competition in a tough field. Since its founding in 1997, the technology and staffing firm’s reputation has grown among the many government agencies, financial institutions and engineering firms it serves. Its commitment to its employees also carries over to the larger community. Astyra has set up shop in an area of Richmond underutilized by businesses in hopes they can bring further economic revival to the city.
Blue Crab Bay Co./Bay Beyond Inc., Melfa
For a quarter century, the Blue Crab Bay Co. has safely navigated the perils facing small businesses on the Eastern Shore. The internationally recognized specialty foods producer has come back from a fire, weathered a recession and successfully reached beyond their isolated location — the source and inspiration of many of their products — to a larger market seeking their special twist on clam-juice infused Bloody Mary mix or spicy snacks, to name a few. In addition to the scores of jobs it keeps in the community, it is a beacon for other businesses and a testament to resilience on the Eastern Shore.
Blue Talon Bistro, Williamsburg
A fire gutted Blue Talon Bistro in 2007. The owners reacted by offering renovation jobs to staff that would have otherwise been laid off. As a result, the remodel was completed far ahead of schedule. Since then, the eatery has faced challenges including a drop in tourism and a lack of foot traffic from the nearby Colonial Downtown. Still, they continue to concentrate on good food and good service and it’s paid off by building a loyal customer base. They are also very active in their community, going so far as to host and pay for free outdoor movies to which the entire City of Williamsburg is invited.
Chateau Morrisette, Inc., Floyd
Chateau Morrisette is a little off the beaten path, but they use it to their advantage. While many Central and Northern Virginia wineries may garner more foot traffic, the 30-year-old vintner uses its idyllic location along the Blue Ridge Parkway to advertise its solitude and unspoiled beauty. It’s an easy jaunt for day-trippers as well as a get-away destination. Today, it is one of the largest vineyards in Virginia, employing scores and helping cottage industries flourish in Floyd, where manufacturing jobs have steadily declined.
GearClean, Inc., Winchester
When the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, it was a Virginia company that found an environmentally friendly way to help safely decontaminate vessels streaming back from the front lines of the clean-up effort. Founded in 2006, GearClean has relied on its innovative cleaning technology and service to grow its business in a variety of ways. However, the company has not forgotten about its community. The company moved into a building abandoned 15 years ago by the faltering apple industry in one of the poorest parts of town. Now new tenants are inquiring, bringing an economic light to the North End neighborhood and Winchester.
Highground Services, Inc., Franklin
When their No. 1 customer and the largest employer in Franklin announced it was closing its paper plant and laying off 1,100 workers in 2009, it was a dramatic blow to Highground Services. Yet the engineering and consulting firm, formed in 2006, trudged on, even hiring 24 employees who were laid off at the plant. Many of their new hires helped form relationships with new customers, and today, the company boasts multiple “anchor” clients. Along the way, the firm bolstered its ability to seek government contracts by locating in an area underutilized by businesses. The move supports the community by not only locating its headquarters in the so-called HUBZone, but many of its employees as well.
L & R Precision Tooling Inc., Lynchburg
With little notice, L&R Precision Tooling’s largest customer moved its operations to Mexico and Asia in 2001, cutting business almost in half. It was a devastating hit to the relatively new machine shop. The company learned a valuable lesson, and today, after nearly 15 years in business, they have a much more diversified client base. With a reputation of taking on the most difficult machining work, business is brisk today. In 2010, they moved into a new 57,000 square foot building and employ more than 30 people. They are a cornerstone in the Lynchburg community, often supporting local causes.
Lindstrand USA, Inc., South Boston
With the arrival of Lindstrand USA in 2004, a new high-tech industry took off in South Boston and Halifax County. As the maker of lighter-than-air cell technology, Lindstrand expanded to the area to target government contracts including projects in aeronautics, although the technology can be used in a variety of ways, including fighting tunnel fires or forestry. The versatile product was the brainchild of Swedish-born inventor, Ph.D. and expert hot air balloonist (and thrill-seeker), Per Lindstrand. Since its arrival from across the pond, Lindstrand USA has faced many challenges, forcing it to diversify and navigate logistic and bureaucratic hurdles. However, today it employs 30 full-time workers locally, nearly 90 percent of whom were out of work for longer than two years prior to being hired. In an area that has seen the decline of the tobacco, furniture and textiles industries, Lindstrand USA is a much welcomed lift.
MountainRose Vineyards, Inc., Wise
MountainRose Vinyards coaxes award-winning wines from previously coal-mined soil and jobs from a rocky local economy. As the only winery for miles near Wise, the Lawson family struck out in 2004 to make a great product. Along the way, they helped spawn a new industry in the heart of coal country. Using sustainable farming methods, MountainRose today produces 11 varieties of wine grapes on nearly 13 acres. They look confidently to the future, no matter the terrain ahead.
Office Plus Business Centre (Haynesworth, Inc.), Danville
Since it was founded in 1937, the Haynesworth family-owned Office Plus Business Centre has endured three moves, a fire, and the death of its founder. Its newest challenge: big-box retailers. Yet, the business, now in its fourth generation, has adapted. They formed a key relationship with the nation’s largest office products buying group and reorganized their own company into four smaller ones. They also engage employees and, most of all, remain committed to quality customer service “after the sale.” Customers often walk out of the store with a courtesy bottle of water. In addition to employing more than a dozen people they are active in an array of local charity and civic groups. For this, they have been named a finalist for the second year in a row in the Resilience Award competition.
Southwest Virginia Veterinary Services, Lebanon
Three years after they opened what would one day become Southwest Virginia Veterinary Services (SVVS), Drs. Margaret and Bayard Rucker had to re-launch their business. The year was 1977 and the couple had just graduated from veterinary school. As one of the only veterinarians in rural Russell County, and without any real business experience, they were quickly overrun with too many customers, seeing patients during the day and performing surgery at night. They eventually connected with more experienced practice owners, learned from their mistakes and tried again. Today, the business remains a stalwart part of the community. With an emphasis on the best care possible, customer relations and training staff, the business has grown, even upgrading its facility in 2009. In addition to numerous critical services they perform daily for pets and owners in the area, they support a variety of local charities.
Thomas A. Johnson Furniture Company, Lynchburg
While his ultimate dream is to build trade schools that empower people and communities, Thomas A. Johnson, whose company is finalist two years in a row, has made significant strides along the way. In April, Johnson invested in a 131,000-square foot facility, expanding his operation for the second time. His commitment to working with the city in revitalizing projects is as important as his charitable giving.
Todos Supermarket, Woodbridge
With the opening of a new 50,000 square-foot grocery store last April, Todos Supermarket celebrates a milestone. It’s only recently that business returned to levels before the foreclosure crises decimated adjacent neighborhoods. A controversial local immigration law passed in 2008 had a chilling effect on customers and put the market and its owner and founder, Carlos Castro, in the middle of a fight that roiled the community. Castro, who fled El Salvador’s civil war as a boy, helped lead opposition to the law while working to bridge a cultural and community divide in Prince William County. The county ultimately revised the law, which gave police power to investigate a person’s legal status to only those in custody for a suspected crime. Now Castro looks to the future, hoping his new anchor store at Marumsco Plaza will play a key role in the revitalization of Route 1 in Woodbridge.
The Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards honor the most resilient businesses in Virginia — those which displayed growth, a dogged entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to community in areas facing high unemployment, high poverty and low entrepreneurial activity.
Five winners will be announced at a special dinner, reception and awards presentation in the Dome Room of the University of Virginia’s historic Rotunda on Wednesday, Sept. 7, where all finalists will join state and local officials, economic development and business leaders, and Darden representatives.
“The goal of the Resilience Awards is to bring well-deserved attention to highly successful businesses in parts of Virginia that some might unwisely overlook,” said Greg Fairchild, executive director of the Tayloe Murphy Center. “These finalists demonstrate the strength of Virginia’s main street businesses, even in the face of significant economic obstacles. With average annual profit growth rates of 42 percent and average annual employment growth rates of 20 percent, in areas where the average company is actually declining, these firms embody resilience.”
To help spur economic growth and entrepreneurial efforts in hard-hit areas of the Commonwealth, Tayloe Murphy Resilience Award Winners receive more than recognition from one of the best business schools in the country. Through ongoing media coverage, opportunities to engage key business and government leaders, and enrollment in a week-long Executive Education course at Darden — valued at $8,000–$12,000 — Resilience Award winners each year gain visibility and resources to help their company and community continue to grow and succeed.
The Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards are presented in part by sponsorship from Virginia Business.
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