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Chamber selects Small Business Award finalists

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After a delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the results are in for the finalists of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 W. Curtis Strube Small Business Award.

The companies range in industry from marketing and cosmetics to technology, financial and aviation. The unveiling of the finalists comes after they’re typically announced in the spring.

The Small Business Award finalists, in alphabetical order, are:

• Academy of Hair Design Inc., a cosmetology and barber school that also has a full-service salon for students to train;

• Burgess Aircraft Management LLC, dba OzAir Charter Service, which operates a fleet of nine jets from Springfield;

• OMG Commerce, an e-commerce and digital marketing agency with a focus on advertising via Amazon and Google;

• Pearson-Kelly Technology, a managed service provider for information technology; and

• Volt Credit Union, a nearly 85-year-old credit union that recently rebranded.

The winning company is scheduled to be announced Nov. 11 during a virtual ceremony presented at the Oasis Hotel & Convention Center. Each will be featured Nov. 5 at the chamber’s Good Morning, Springfield event, according to a news release.

Despite the delay in releasing the results for the finalists, the applications were not based on the businesses’ resiliency to the COVID-19 pandemic. But chamber President Matt Morrow said all small businesses, and particularly the award finalists, this year have proven why they’re vital to the local economy.

“These companies are amazing examples of the resilience of the people who keep these small businesses going through all kinds of adversity, and we’re thrilled to be able to honor them,” Morrow said in the release.

Silver linings
In interviews with Springfield Business Journal, a few themes emerged among the finalist companies.

After the initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic in Springfield, some finalists have found opportunities. For instance, after Burgess Aircraft Management was shut down for eight weeks during the pandemic, owner and CEO Mark Burgess said his company is starting to see more businesses justify the cost of charter service for safety concerns on commercial flights.

“This is going to generate some new business to help replace some of the business we are still losing because of places not being fully operated and open to travel, too,” said Burgess, noting charter flight volumes are not quite back to pre-COVID levels.

OMG Commerce CEO Brett Curry said while work in early spring was tough because clients pulled back on ad spending, people have shifted to e-commerce. Whether consumers could not get out or did not want to go out, it pushed more product transactions online. In return, sales among OMG’s clients have increased, spurring them to spend more in advertising built by OMG, largely for YouTube, Amazon and Google Ads.

“A lot of clients have been having record years,” said Curry, citing national brands Coop Home Goods, Native deodorants and Monin flavored syrups among clientele.

Community efforts
Each finalist said their role in the community is important to their business structure.

Volt Credit Union President and CEO Loretta Roney said as part of their 85th anniversary in business they have started certain initiatives to help the community – including giving their employees 24 hours of paid leave off from work to volunteer.

“Trying to take care of your people as well as take care of your members as well as your community is really important,” said Roney.

At Academy of Hair Design, Superintendent Linda Daugherty said students learn guest relations and guest services skills by engaging with the community. For instance, students cut hair at the Springfield Dream Center once a month.

“It’s giving our students opportunities to meet incredible people, to give back of themselves – then it also gives them the opportunity for that hands-on training that you simply can’t get or learn from a mannequin,” said Daugherty.

Expansion in progress
Despite the drawbacks of COVID-19, including furloughs and layoffs, some of the finalists are in the progress of expanding their companies instead.

Pearson-Kelly Technology President Chelsey Bode said year over year the firm has been growing at a rate of over 30%, but this year it’s looking to break even. Right now, Pearson-Kelly has 44 employees. Next up is looking at northwest Arkansas as an expansion market, Bode said, although the timeline is uncertain due to the effects of COVID-19.

“Our people have shown that whenever times get tough, they step it up,” she said. “They care for each other, they care for the community and in turn our business has grown because of that.”

Plans at OMG Commerce involve hiring. Curry said the company has added a half-dozen staffers since the pandemic started, and he expects to bring that number to 10 by year’s end.

At Burgess Aircraft Management, Burgess is in the process of securing the fleet’s largest aircraft for charter service.

“We hope in the next six to 12 months we can offer travel to Hawaii and Europe,” he said.

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