A full house of 250 people packed Club Lentinas to honour community business leaders at the 128th annual Chatham and District Chamber of Commerce annual awards night.
Chamber President and CEO Gail Bishop said the common thread among the award winners was their commitment to Chatham-Kent.
“What I notice is the thing behind each and every one of them is that as much as they are committed to their employer or employees as the case may be, they are equally committed to making Chatham-Kent a better place to live, work and play.”
She pointed to local firms that face regional, national and global competition as being more adept at business than ever before.
“Today there are no boundaries,” she said. “Anyone from across the ocean can find a new customer or provider with a few clicks, so these businesses are very much on their toes. They adapt, they change and they embrace.”
Citizen of the Year Jennifer Wilson, honoured for her work this year in spearheading construction of the Chatham-Kent Hospice was thrilled.
“I feel like it’s my birthday,” she said. “This is amazing.”
Wilson said, through, “sometimes the community gets things mixed up. I stand there with a big cardboard cheque and they look at me and think that’s it but the real work and the real workers do so much more than I do.”
Mike Kilby, an owner at Dajcor Aluminum, chosen as the Industry of the Year, said the award is a tribute to all of his 150 employees.
“We can compete anywhere where the playing field is level,” he said.
Kilby said the aluminum extruders of Canada successfully lobbied the federal government to stop price dumping practices by China a number of years ago.
“Just have us play by the same rules, without government subsidies or unfair environmental or workplace safety issues and we will do fine.”
Dajcor rose from the ashes of the former Daymond Aluminum plant on Irwin Street five years ago with partners Max Fantuz and Bill Loucks.
It’s a real tribute to our team. When me and Max and Bill went to call key employees and ask them if they would come back, they unanimously said yes. They all knew this (plant) had a life to be had and that leap of faith is a testament to the kind of people we have there.”
Dave Barnier, who’s Erieau Marina won the Corporate Citizen of the Year award, said he was shocked to learn of the honour.
“There are a lot of people in Chatham-Kent who give back to the community,” he said. “It’s amazing to be singled out.”
Barnier, who has operated the business with his parents Doug and Dianne, since 1981, said, “it’s a joy to go to work every day.”
He said he’s lucky enough to be in a business where the customers really want to be here.
“We’ve worked to make sure our place is more than just a parking lot for boats,” he said. “We have plenty of amenities from Wi-Fi, to barbeques to a Laundromat. People don’t have to go home until they want to.”
Mike and Sue Korpan, owners of Early Acres Estate Winery, said they won an award for doing something they love.
The Entrepreneur of the Year business is a family affair.
“Everybody pitches in and there isn’t anything we don’t pass by each other,” Mike said. “We’ve been fortunate to have won 16 awards in the past four years. It’s not easy and the weather is your toughest customer but we’ve been fortunate.”
Sue said the business’ goal is to “perfect where we are and what we do and hope others join them. I wish there were ten more wineries opening up in Chatham-Kent,” Mike said. “We want to become a destination.”
Joanne Vansevenant, president and CEO of Kent & Essex Mutual Insurance, said the honour of being named Business of the Year demonstrates the firm lives up to its values.
“We’re community based and owned with our profits going back to back to policy holders or donations to the community. We were founded 128 years ago on the idea of neighbours helping neighbours so this means a lot.”
Jeff McFadden, whose JM Controls and Electric Ltd. earned him Young Entrepreneur/Professional of the Year, said his firm owes its success to seizing an opportunity and running with it.
Since opening less than two years ago, the business has grown from one co-op student to 14 employees and nine vehicles.
“It’s a lot of hard work and it takes dedicated employees,” he said. “You need to take risks and have people who will work just as hard as you are.”
Youth Entrepreneur of the Year Jacklyn Janssen is no stranger to awards, having earned one from Junior Achievement as a 15-year-old.
Now 17 and completing Grade 12 at Chatham-Kent Secondary School, she’s heading to Belgium for 10 months on a rotary Club Exchange program.
“When I come back, I’ll be going to college or university but I don’t have anything finalized right now,” she said.