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Posted February 4, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Variety of award winners on tap

B.J. Sager Inc.
B.J. Sager Inc. Chairman and CEO Joseph Hollis, left, and President Patrick Harrison pose inside the company's warehouse in Kernstown. The local beer distributor was named the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber's large business of the year during the group's annual dinner Friday night. Dennis Grundman/Daily

By Linwood Outlaw III -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER -- Faced with a deteriorating economy that has slashed jobs and trimmed consumer spending, businesses across the nation saw their share of hard times in 2008. But the slump won't last forever, and entrepreneurs will continue to weather the storm.

That was the message business owners and others conveyed at the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber's Greater Good Awards dinner at the Millwood Station Special Events Center on Friday night.

The event recognizes businesses that have made an impact in their community through volunteer efforts, job creation and other financial support, all while demonstrating a high degree of ethics and integrity. Residents are also honored for their contributions.

"As we anticipate the economic challenges facing our nation, region and community in 2009, let us take comfort in knowing that we are part of a resilient economy here in the Shenandoah Valley," Jim Youngblood, market president of Virginia National Bank, told those in attendance on Friday.

"We are home to a dedicated and strong work force. We have committed citizens who generously support nonprofit and volunteer organizations. Outstanding leadership exists within our government, industry and civic organizations."

The chamber recognized B.J. Sager Inc. as the region's large business of the year and gave Habitat for Humanity ReStore the small business of the year award. Glen and Kim Burke, owners of the newly renovated historic George Washington Hotel on East Piccadilly Street in Winchester, took home the entrepreneur of the year award, beating out Brenda Adams of Simply Charming Boutique. Runners-up for the small business of the year nod were AIDS Response Effort, Focus Construction Corp., ProJet Aviation, Signet Screen Printing & Embroidery and Sperry Van Ness. Chick-Fil-A was the sole runner-up for the large business of the year award.

Winchester native Fran Ricketts, meanwhile, was named citizen of the year. Ricketts -- who works with the Congregational Community Action Project Inc., a cooperative ministry of churches in Winchester and Frederick County -- said she only wishes she could contribute more to projects in her community, but financial struggles have prevented her from doing so.

"I know not just one person can prevent this [economic] problem. But when the burden is so heavy, and the need is so great, it really hurts," Ricketts said.

Experts insist the country's economic woes will continue in 2009. Some analysts, however, are predicting that the local economy will rebound this year -- albeit slightly.

Total employment in Winchester is expected to increase 2.5 percent in 2009, topping all metropolitan statistical areas in Virginia, according to data released by the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission. By comparison, job growth is projected to be 2.1 percent in Northern Virginia.

Wages and salaries are expected to increase by 3.6 percent this year, and overall retail sales should post a minor boost at 0.7 percent -- up from an anticipated 4.9 percent drop in sales in 2008 -- according to figures from Chmura Economics & Analytics' Third Quarter 2008 Virginia Economic Trends. The report states that retail sales in Virginia have been on a downward trend for nearly two years.

Times may be rough now, but business leaders in the region "are not ready to roll over and give up," said Tim Stowe of Stowe Engineering, who will serve as board chairman for the regional chamber this year.

"It's no secret that we're in very challenging economic times. And some say we're in a recession. Others say we're in a depression. But there's no doubt that the economic times have had an impact on our local businesses, and that impact is very real," Stowe said. "Yet the entrepreneur spirit is real in our community. It's alive and it's well, and it shows itself quite frequently."

Glen Burke agreed. "Now more than ever, I think entrepreneurs especially need to stand together in alliance. And you at the [regional] chamber do that. And I'm sure you're very proud of what you do, and you need to continue to do that," Burke said after accepting his award. "And we all need to remember that this, too, shall pass. This rough economy is not going to last forever, and we will get through this."

The Top of Virginia Regional Chamber serves over 1,000 organizations representing 45,000 area employees.

Contact Linwood Outlaw III at loutlaw@nvdaily.com

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