10 Dane County small businesses doing it right

Small businesses don’t often grab headlines, but they make up the overwhelming majority of the businesses operating in Dane County, and they’re very much the lifeblood of the communities they operate in.

So it was with great pride that 10 area businesses took home honors on June 4 at the 33rd annual Dane County Small Business Awards. Each year, these prestigious awards recognize 10 successful small Dane County businesses that have rewarding workplace environments and contribute to their community.

Keynote speaker Peter Gunder, chief business development officer for American Family Insurance, noted American Family is not a small business, though it started as one right here in Dane County more than 80 years ago.

Its founder, Herman Wittwer, was a struggling insurance salesman who dreamed of success selling auto insurance to Wisconsin farmers. Wittwer understood farmers presented lower risks compared to city drivers because they drove less often and put their cars up on blocks for the winter, Gunder explained.

Armed with this customer knowledge, Wittwer confidently opened the doors of Farmers Mutual Automobile Insurance Company on Oct. 3, 1927, and over the years, American Family’s market grew from rural areas to small towns, suburbs, and metropolitan areas. American Family stayed ahead of the curve by expanding its products and services to meet its customers’ changing needs, something Gunder noted many of the small business award winners in attendance had to do at one point or another to achieve the lasting success they enjoy today.

This year’s award winners come from a wide variety of industries, with differing challenges and goals (as noted in the profile information submitted by each company), but all have overcome obstacles through perseverance and teamwork to become leaders in their fields.

Association Management Partners & Executive Directors (AMPED) — Madison
Lynda Patterson, President and Owner

AMPED is a full-service, woman-owned association management firm, handling all aspects of associations with the care and expertise members expect. It works in partnership with boards of directors to provide high-energy leadership and operational management, and its clients are primarily national and international trade and professional associations. AMPED is also one of only 80 firms that have achieved the prestigious AMC Institute accreditation. Employees are encouraged to take time off to hit the reset button, spend time with friends and family, and take care of real-life issues. Staff at AMPED are also very civic-minded, volunteering as a group each holiday season at the Madison Concourse Hotel as well as collecting donations for various local charities at many client events.

Avant Gardening and Landscaping Inc. — McFarland
Liza Lightfoot, President and Licensed Landscape Architect

Avant Gardening and Landscaping Inc. is a full-service, woman-owned landscape design, installation, and grounds maintenance company. It has grown from an initial $200 investment nearly 30 years ago into a company that has thrived through boom and bust periods in an industry typically hard hit by recessions. Avant is currently working on a civic project that will be donated to the Marquette Neighborhood Association, and in the past has designed and donated materials to the Madison Police Department Memorial Garden for officers who died in the line of duty. It has also installed civic projects with the Wisconsin Landscape Contractors Association, including projects for the Ronald McDonald House, Red Cross, Shorewood Elementary School, Atwood Community Center, Aldo Leopold Nature Center, and many more.

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C. Blohm & Associates Inc. — Monona
Charlene Blohm, President/Owner

C. Blohm & Associates Inc. is a woman-owned public relations firm specializing in visibility campaigns for the education and special needs industries. While CB&A stands out for its work on the special needs front, it has also made tremendous strides in increasing public relations for the education technology industry. CB&A is also an active member of the community, helping with Salvation Army bell ringing during the holiday season, sending employees into local schools to read books to children as a part of the Read Across America initiative, and participating in the promotion of United Way’s Second Harvest campaign. CB&A has also helped educate the public relations professionals of Dane County by sponsoring Edgewood College’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter in Madison.

Employee Benefits Corporation — Middleton
Shelly Alexander, President/CEO

Employee Benefits Corporation administers a variety of employee benefits, from IRS-approved, tax-advantaged plans to COBRA continuation health coverage, by developing creative benefit designs, sharing its compliance expertise using educational materials and webinars, and developing custom technology to deliver a comprehensive online user experience. As a 100% employee-owned company, its employee-owners enjoy a relaxed work environment, casual dress code, and an open door policy, and can take advantage of adjusted work schedules, flex work weeks, generous paid time off, and paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. Each year, it also gives back to its clients and the community through its Charitable Giving Program. Unlike other organizations, Employee Benefits Corporation looks to its non-executive team members to make decisions about where it allocates its donations each year.

Fearing’s Audio Video Security — Madison
Douglas Fearing, President

Fearing’s is a low-voltage systems integrator with core disciplines in audio, video, security, and voice/data cabling systems, serving the commercial, educational, health care, and government marketplace. It has undergone significant changes in its nearly 18 years, from humble beginnings installing residential AV and satellite systems in the Columbia and Sauk County area, to its current position today as an installer of higher end commercial AV and security systems throughout Dane County and the surrounding area. In particular, Fearing’s counts the following companies among its customer base: Alliant Energy, Promega, St. Mary’s Hospitals, Marcus Corporation, The Edgewater Hotel, Beloit College, UW–Whitewater, Nordic Consulting Group, WTS Paradigm, and more. Fearing’s also provided the design and installation of the paging system and installed the structured and fiber optic cabling for the Alliant Energy Center’s New Holland Pavilions.

Ken Saiki Design Inc. — Madison
Ken Saiki, President

Ken Saiki Design is a minority-owned specialty design firm focusing on the practice of landscape architecture. It provides land planning and site design services to public and private clientele throughout Wisconsin and the upper Midwest, and has designed the site and landscape for many notable projects, including the Capitol Square Promenade, State Street reconstruction, Camp Randall Stadium, and Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Its benefits package is tailored for each employee’s unique situation and includes flexible work hours to accommodate varying lifestyles and schedules; remote-work opportunities for staff; six months of paid parental leave per employee; and a vacation bonus to encourage travel. Ken Saiki Design has also created an office culture that supports women in the design and construction profession, which is predominantly male.

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Midwest Home Care — Madison
Robert Weink, Founder, CEO

Midwest Home Care (MHC) is a private, local and family-owned homecare agency providing services to help seniors manage the tasks of everyday living. MHC coordinates property care and referrals services for financial and legal assistance. Care management is available to coordinate a wide range of services and to communicate closely with clients and their families. MHC also provides support services in nursing homes or assisted living facilities where one-with-one care is generally not provided. The company and employees participate in community events such as the Alzheimer’s Memory Walk, the APDA Walk-a-thon, and the University of Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Clinical Study. In addition, MHC annually sponsors a Continuity of Care event, which brings together health care professionals from all fields of the industry to discuss emerging trends and industry practices.

Thunderbird Engineering Inc. — Madison
Shawn Woldt, Principal

Thunderbird Engineering Inc. is an emerging, minority-owned, nine-employee engineering design firm with offices in Madison and Milwaukee. The company specializes in plumbing, fire protection, and HVAC design solutions for both public and private architectural projects. From Lambeau Field to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, its work can be seen in over 20 cities and counties throughout Wisconsin. Current Dane County-specific projects include the Veterans Museum of Joint Preservation Storage Facility as well as a number of projects at UW–Madison, including work on several residence halls, the Music Performance Building, Bascom Hall, Chemistry Instructional Buildings, and UW–Hospital. In addition, management implemented a profit-sharing plan that rewards team members equally with one-third of the company’s pre-tax profits.

TransformPOS — Monona
Bret Gundlach, President

TransformPOS provides point of sale and other technology solutions to the hospitality industry. Its solutions include POS systems, digital signage and menu boards, liquor control systems, surveillance systems, paging systems, and general IT support for restaurants, taverns, clubs, cafeterias, and more. It supports over 300 clients 24/7/365, ranging from small diners and taverns to very large establishments. It began in 2004 as a basic “small business IT” provider for the Madison area, before transitioning in 2005 into the point of sale market. It’s now among the top dealers in the world for two of its POS systems, and it works with many well-known restaurants in the Midwest, such as Sprecher’s Restaurant & Pub, The Old Fashioned, Eno Vino, and hundreds more.

Wil-Kil Pest Control — Sun Prairie
Dale Bauerkemper, Vice President/General Manager

Wil-Kil Pest Control provides pest control services for businesses and homeowners across the upper Midwest. Field technicians provide integrated pest management (IPM) programs for businesses and homeowners, a less invasive approach to pest control that implements all methods of non-chemical control before considering pesticides. Wil-Kil was also the first pest management company to launch canine bed bug detection services in the state of Wisconsin. Wil-Kil also offers opportunities for growth and development among its technicians, offering to pay for an unlimited number of additional pest control certifications for its technicians beyond their basic Structural Pest Control certification. Its Special Services team has also performed complimentary bed bug treatments for people in need and donated supplies for the prevention of bed bugs to local shelters.

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