Community Builders

Of all the criteria used to evaluate candidates for the Dane County Small Business Awards, perhaps the most underappreciated is what the winning companies do to get employees involved in the community. Understandably, much of the attention is focused on business accomplishments (including bottom-line performance), the level of employee benefits (including ones that promote work-life balance), and how companies "give back" to the community. But the awards also consider employee charity and, given the psychic benefits, this is an excellent retention tool.

So with the exception of KEVA Sports Center, which we profile at greater length here, I'd like to share how employees at each of the other award winners give back.

Neil Lerner, director of the Small Business Development Center at the UW-Madison School of Business, noted their philanthropy includes support of children's services and events, schools, libraries, social services, other small businesses, community events, and the performing arts. "The list is endless," Lerner added. Indeed, and here are some examples that should inspire anyone.

Employees at Adesys, an emerging IT services provider, focus on kids. They are actively involved in the Great Pumpkin Give-a-Way (fund-raiser), youth sports coaching, walk-run participation, and Salvation Army bell-ringing.

Community service also is mission critical at Connections Counseling, a woman-owned clinic for people recovering from substance abuse and mental health issues. Several of its employees participate on boards and committees, including the State Council on Alcohol or Other Drug Abuse and the Dane County Chemical Dependency Consortium.

Flooring products and services are the calling card of CTW Abbey Carpet & Floor, and employees play a central role in the company's contributions to Toys for Tots, Habitat for Humanity, and Goodwill Industry's vocational services program.

Next Energy, LLC, doing business as Full Spectrum Solar, is promoting the next generation of energy solutions, while its staff of a dozen workers volunteer at local food and blood drives and at Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) events.

Ian's Pizza on State, another emerging business, has a flair for creating a favored kind of pie, and its workforce of 15 full-timers and 16 part-timers enjoyed a baked-in holiday treat – the second annual Mustaches for Kids fundraiser for the Make A Wish Foundation. For a month, men don't shave their mustaches (women wear fakes), and donate a portion of their tips. They tipped the scales at $2,200 last December.

Madison NO FEAR Dentistry attempts to ensure a great experience when patients visit the dentist, but its employees help the organization drill deeper with various charitable efforts: Give Kids a Smile (free oral health services to children) and Touched Twice (outreach and care to adults who cannot afford dental care).

Various employees at Verona-based Rockweiler Insulation, which specializes in fiberglass insulation products and air sealing for homes and businesses, devote their energy to community volunteerism with the Verona Area Chamber, Performing Arts Series, Jaycees, and Public Library.

Workers at Semba Biosciences, whose bio-based products are used in drug discovery and biofuels research, volunteer time for company initiatives that motivate young people to enter the science field.

Employees at United Vaccines help inoculate young people from harm by volunteering for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, youth sports, agricultural education, and 4-H.

As these award-winning companies illustrate, there are as many ways to give as there are business concepts, and Greater Madison has many nonprofits that would gladly accept the help.

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