Honoring Dane County’s Job Providers

photo courtesy of Dane County Small Business Awards

Even as the economy nibbles away at employment numbers, small businesses remain the driving force behind employment in both Dane County and nationwide. In June, the local business community has the opportunity to shower some well-deserved accolades on ten of its small businesses at the Dane County Small Business Awards.

According to the 2007 U.S. Census, of Dane County’s 13,531 business establishments, 82% had fewer than 20 employees, while 93% had fewer than 50 employees. (See below.)

# of Employees # of Dane County Businesses (of total: 13,531)
1 – 4 6,474
5 – 9 2,637
10 – 19 2,043
20 – 49 1,465
Total 12,619 (93%)

For nearly three decades, the DCSBA has been honoring small businesses at a breakfast celebration, attracting approximately 250 people, including city and county leaders. Neil Lerner, director of the University of Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SMDC), has been involved in the program for 15 of its 28 years. “The awards have grown nicely in terms of the number of companies nominated, those returning questionnaires, and the number of attendees each year,” he said. In a typical year, about 70 nominations are received. Nominated companies are then invited to submit a questionnaire about their business, but only those returning the questionnaire are eligible for consideration, Lerner explained.

One past recipient, Michael Dix, owner of Michael’s Frozen Custard, said he was extremely humbled and honored to receive the award in 2008. “I had been to the awards program several times to honor others, but when you’re in business, you don’t think of the awards because you’re so busy. [Being a recipient] was a great honor and a wonderful opportunity just to pause and soak in the accolades.”

The sentiments were shared by Bonnie Marshall, Director of Fundraising, Marketing & Special Events for America’s Best Flowers in Cottage Grove, Wis., who said her company was excited to receive the award in 2007. “The very first thing we did was go into the greenhouse and tell all of the associates,” she said, “It really belonged to them.” The company, she said, displays its engraved trophy near its main cash register. “It’s even prettier than the Oscar!” she laughed, “and instills a feeling of confidence in the business.”

At a time when small business is being rankled by a tough economy and unprecedented unemployment figures, celebrating the contributions of small business is especially important. “Small businesses contribute a large percentage of the employment figure, and all of the increase in jobs is due to small businesses,” Lerner said. That’s especially important, he explained, because Wisconsin does not have the types of large employers seen in places like Chicago and Minneapolis. “Wisconsin is more reliant on small business here for job creation than other places,” he said, which might explain why the awards have become better appreciated over the years.

Lerner said the SBDC does not take full credit for the program’s success, because it is collaboratively supported by a number of area businesses. The SBDC, though, as the primary coordinator, gets the word out to the community, collects nominations and coordinates the event; the Wisconsin Business Development Finance Corp. sends out questionnaires, compiles the results and coordinates the awards presentation; Madison Gas & Electric prints invitations; Chase Bank and the Wisconsin Business Development Finance Corp. help with financial support; In Business magazine and Mid-West Family Broadcasting provide publicity, and Centro Hispano and the Urban League of Greater Madison also play sponsorship roles.

The DCSBA is accepting nominations for this year’s program through March. Companies with revenues of up to $15 million can be nominated, and anyone can nominate a company for consideration. Ten companies are honored each year, and the winners, Lerner explained, are recognized for the risks they took to grow their businesses and the employees who helped them rise to success. “Companies don’t grow and aren’t successful without their employees,” he said, “so we want to honor them both.”

Michael’s Frozen Custard shared the honor with its staff of about 125, according to Dix, holding celebratory breakfasts at each of the company’s four locations. He has also nominated a company for this year’s award.

“It’s a very easy nomination process,” he said, “less than 10 minutes. I really encourage people to get involved. I’ll be there again this year!”

Mark your calendars for Friday, June 18, 7:30 a.m. at the Sheraton Madison Hotel, and get those nominations in — by the end of March! Simply go to http://sbdc.wisc.edu/DCSBA/dcsbanom.asp.

Register for the event and breakfast celebration ($25 per person) by clicking here.

Sign up for the free IB Update — your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices and the names you need to know. Click here.