EDA, Chamber award small businesses
FRONT ROYAL – In the past, the Economic Development Authority and the Chamber of Commerce hosted a breakfast or lunch to celebrate the small business owners in town. They would have it at a local country club and cater the meal, but there was just one problem: the majority of business owners they were celebrating weren’t able to attend because they were at work.
So the EDA and the chamber staff put their heads together and, according to Marla Jones, EDA director of business development, decided to put the money to better use.
“So Jennifer (Jennifer McDonald, executive director of the EDA) and I talked about it and decided that taking that money that we would have spent on a fancy luncheon, we would, instead, award grant money to small businesses,” Jones said. “We’ve been doing that since 2011. We have made 21 awards to Front Royal and Warren County businesses totaling $13,800.”
Jones explained that the qualifications for consideration are: “have to be considered a small business in the Commonwealth of Virginia (less than 500 employees), have to be licensed in either Front Royal or Warren County, they have to describe a very specific need for the money and they have to be well known in the community as good partners and community leaders.”
This year, the three businesses that won the award are: The Vine and Leaf, Queen Consulting and Technologies and Vetbuilder.
The Vine and Leaf
At this time two years ago, Craig Laird, owner of the Vine and Leaf, was using regular tea bags to make tea. Now, he runs a wine and tea bar that offers more than 50 varieties of tea and he says he could go around the country and give lectures on different types of tea.
Laird, who also owns Royal Oak Computers in Front Royal, was awarded the largest grant of $1,000 to help expand his business by adding new kitchen equipment, tables and chairs.
“Wow, it was absolutely wonderful,” Laird said. “It’s great to be recognized in the community for, not just within the business, but within the community as a whole. We are excited to have not just won the award, but won the top award this year.”
The Vine and Leaf specializes in gourmet teas, chocolates and wines, a niche that Laird said was definitely missing from the community. So when the opportunity came along two years ago, he took a chance and decided to give it a try. Two years later, his and his staff’s hard work is paying off, as Jones explained that Laird is exactly what the EDA and chamber had in mind when handing out the awards.
“Craig has been a stalwart stellar business owner for many many years,” Jones said. “When he saw the Shenandoah Confections store going out of business across from his computer business, he just jumped in and said, ‘Let me rescue this business,’ and he has done a marvelous job.”
Queen Consulting and Technologies
Nathan Scott was just looking for a little bit of space. He had grown up in California and decided he wanted to look for a Catholic college away from home. That search led him to Christendom College, where he met his wife, Katherine, and a love for Front Royal. So 11 years and almost 3,000 miles later, Scott’s business, Queen Consulting and Technologies, has become a leader in the community and is what helped him be awarded the $750 prize by the EDA and the chamber.
“What we’re striving to do with Queen, is provide the top notch IT services that a lot of small businesses don’t have in house or can’t afford,” Scott said. “We’re trying to bring that down to an affordable price point and be proactive and not reactive. We try to make that accessible and approachable to the small business owners in the county.”
With the money Queen was awarded, Scott plans to send one of his new employees to a training program for marketing and business development, which will help develop the business and help it grow. Because of that, he was thrilled when he found out about the award.
“We were very pleasantly surprised and very grateful,” Scott said. “I think I remember telling them over the phone that I was a little overwhelmed and that we were very grateful for that.”
But while Scott may have been surprised, Jones explained that Scott’s commitment to his community made it easy to choose Queen.
“Nathan Scott is just a real go-getter, he’s exuberant and he loves his community,” Jones said. “We have worked with Nathan a lot, and his excellence in business is beyond reproach. He’s slowly growing his business and we’re getting to watch that so it’s very exciting.”
After getting out of the Marine Corps, Michael Whitlow said he went to school for something completely different than what he’s doing now with Vetbuilder, his construction and restoration company. But it was his upbringing, and a little bit of bad luck, he said, that led him to open Vetbuilder.
“I got out of the Marine Corps and I went to culinary school, so I’m actually a chef by trade, so I cook really good for her,” Whitlow said, gesturing to his wife Karen. “But I’ve always worked with my hands. We grew up relatively poor in Erie, Pennsylvania, so we were always fixing, painting or doing something. I cooked in Boston, cooked in Providence, but I was always doing this type of thing and I was really bad at it, but I kept honing my skills.”
Whitlow opened Vetbuilder in 2006, focusing mainly on historic preservation. But when the economy hit a rough patch in 2010, Whitlow was forced to put Vetbuilder on the shelf while he went out and developed his handyman skills. Then in July 2014, Vetbuilder reopened and, according to Whitlow, has been on a three-week wait since.
It’s that attitude, doing whatever is necessary to succeed, that made Vetbuilder a viable applicant for the EDA and chamber award.
“Vetbuilders is a relatively new business and we don’t often award this to new businesses, but Mike Whitlow has jumped into the community with both feet,” Jones said. “He’s already volunteered on a number of chamber projects so he’s active in the community, and he now serves on the Town Board of Architectural Review. He’s a very hands-on participatory business owner, and we like that very much.”