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SBA Announces Buffalo Small Business Week Award Winners

Release Date: 
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Release Number: 
Advisory Number: 
Kelly LoTempio

Z-AXIS, Inc. selected as NYS Small Business Person of the Year; will compete for National award

BUFFALO, NY— Franklin J. Sciortino, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Buffalo district office announced today the names of 11 SBA Small Business Week award winners from the 14 westernmost counties of New York State.  Among the winners, one was selected for state honors and remains in the mix for a national title.

Michael Allen, president of Z-AXIS Inc. of Phelps, NY was selected as the district and NYS recipient of the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year award. 

“Z-AXIS has not only won the Buffalo district and state award but now competes for national recognition,” said Franklin J. Sciortino. “It is my pleasure to recognize Michael Allen and all of the Western New York Small Business Week award winners for their leadership, for advancing the nation’s entrepreneurial spirit and for the many contributions to our economy.  For all of these things, I offer my sincere congratulations.” 

Z-AXIS started in 1989 as a manufacturer of rugged industrial CRT-based displays, and for 10 years was highly successful in this niche market.  In 1999, demand for CRTs began to shrink as cheaper, commodity LCD technology gained.  In 2006, after six years of downward sales and financial losses, the company’s founder retired and Michael Allen took over as President. 

As a catalyst for change, Michael Allen transformed the company as technology evolved and market demand for the company’s core competency, video display terminals, dwindled.  Over a five year period, Michael Allen repurposed the assets and staff of Z-AXIS, Inc., developed a new product line, BEAR Power Systems and entered the contract manufacturing market, which represented all new territory for the Company. 

As a result of Allen’s entrepreneurial spirit and vision for the company, Z-AXIS, Inc. will remain in Phelps, NY, preserving 73 FTE’s, with the promise of 10 new FTE’s to be created in the next three years. 

Local winners will receive their awards during a small business recognition ceremony, which will be held in Buffalo on May 5.  They will also be recognized on May 7, 2014 at the SBA Small Business Week Awards Luncheon.  The luncheon will be held at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center from 12:30 p.m.-2:00 p.m. Tickets cost $45 per seat or $450 per table of 10.  Please contact Kelly LoTempio, Economic Development Specialist/Public Information Officer at (716) 551-4301 ext. 309 or by e-mail at Kelly.lotempio@sba.gov for reservations.  You may also register on-line at:   SBA Business Matchmaker, Awards Luncheon & Expo

The following is a list of the SBA’s 2013 Buffalo District Office Small Business Week award winners and their profiles:


Damon Piatek, Welke Customs Brokers USA, Inc., Tonawanda, NY

Welke Customs Brokers USA, Inc. is incorporated in the state of New York and headquartered in Tonawanda, New York.  WCB USA offers business to business services and solutions to companies including manufacturers, resellers, and distributers, etc. that transact business internationally.  

The business has a full range of import products and solutions including advanced electronic Customs clearance, entry filings with payment for duties, fees and taxes, importer security filings, surety bonds, transportation bonds and coordinating domestic deliveries.  Advancements in technology and regulatory change have presented opportunities to expand their market to all U.S. ports of entry along the U.S. Canada border, U.S. Mexican border and all international air and sea ports.  In addition, WCB provides an array of regulatory and security compliance. 


John “Jack” O’Connor, SCORE Buffalo Niagara Certified Mentor

John aka Jack O’Connor celebrated 30 years of continuous volunteer service with SCORE Buffalo Niagara in November 2013.  An important member to SCORE, Jack provides management guidance, handles all e-mail marketing programs and data analysis.  In addition to mentoring, Jack has volunteered to improve the climate for home-based businesses through is extensive experience and business services as an engineer and executive with the Carborundum Company in Niagara Falls, New York.  Hired in 1951, he retired in 1982 and continued doing consulting work for Carborundum through 1985. 

We also honorably mention O’Connor’s service career which began in the U.S. Marine Corps during WWII when he was in combat in the Pacific Theater of Operations.  He landed in Guadalcanal for training in September 1944 and from there invaded Okinawa on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945.  He received the Purple Heart medal. 


Brian Junke, Lock 34 Bar & Grill, Lockport, NY

 Brian Junke purchased Lock 34 Bar & Grill in August 2011.  Conveniently located in central Lockport, the bar and grill is easily accessible to all surrounding communities.  This casual establishment serves a number of entertainment needs.  On the patio bar DJs spin music to dance, while live bands play simultaneously inside, dartboards, karaoke, acoustic sets and the endless entertainment provide “something for everyone” to enjoy. 

In addition, Lock 34 provides a diverse menu, full of Lockport themed dishes that will not only satisfy your palate but also test your knowledge of local history!  They are best known for their delicious sweet and spicy wings and brick-oven style pizza.  Junke is used to a full house providing nightly specials and promotions that keep the atmosphere fun and ever changing. 


Robert Banas and Robert Novak, Buffalo Veteran Business Council, Tonawanda, NY

Nominated for their partnership effort in conceptualizing and launching Buffalo Veterans Business Council, Banas and Novak are being honored as the SBA Veteran Small Business Champions of the Year. 

BVBC is a council of veteran small business owners, in support of veterans, which was founded in 2012 by Banas, with the active support of Novak.  The BVBC, now in its third year has steadily grown with over 50 member businesses.  BVBC supports business and employment focused events as well as a yearly family.  And, when it comes to veterans employing other veterans, the awareness and the business network created and maintained by the BVBC has allowed veteran business owners to hire veterans in need of work. 

The BVBC is an important program partner with the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State College (SBDC) and the Veteran Business Outreach Center (VBOC). 


Sara Vescio, Women’s Business Center, Canisius College, Buffalo, NY

Sara Vescio is the director of the Women’s Business Center at Canisius College.  Vescio’s goal – help entrepreneurs succeed in bringing them education, connection and community.  Vescio spearheads training programs in networking, business planning, financing, HR, social media, and MWBE certifications. 

As WBC director since 2012, Vescio encourages members to join in on the wide variety of programs and to actively participate in the Western New York Business Community. 


Jesse L. Burnette, County of Erie Division Equal Employment Opportunity, Buffalo, NY

Jesse L. Burnette is the Director of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) for Erie County.  In this position, Burnette is responsible for implementing the mission of the EEO which is to help build an inclusion workforce in an environment that fosters dignity and respect for the individual and a diverse workforce that reflects a changing world and marketplace.

Additionally, Burnette represents the Division of EEO on the County of Erie Minority/Women Business Enterprise Utilization Advisory Board.  The board provides advice and recommendations on a broad range of policy issues that affect minority and women businesses and their ability to successfully access the county marketplace. 

Burnette also participates in SBA’s Annual Straight Talk Conference as a workshop leader and guest speaker for the Women’s Business Center at Canisius.


Michael Young, A.E.Y. Enterprises, Macedon, NY

Based in Macedon, New York, A.E.Y. Enterprises (AEY) provides quality site construction and customer services since 1989.  With more than 20 years in Business, AEY offers experience in both commercial and residential site work, and in recent years has expanded to offer concrete and stonework. 

Recently AEY added paving and engineering divisions, thus requiring the company to seek out expanded facility space.  With the help of SBA and NYBDC, AEY built a new 10,000 square foot facility comprised of a shop area with three large overhead doors and office space.  The new facility enables AEY to take advantage of the local demand for heavy truck repair.  

The expansion has allowed AEY to add five full-time employees to its roster of 20 full-time employees to five part-time employees. 


Bernadette Aja, KeyBank, N.A., Buffalo, NY

Bernadette Aja is the Amherst Area Retail Leader for Key Bank.  Aja has been part of Key Bank for over 30 years.  Her experience ranges from internal audit, operations, sales and marketing along with her participation in a number of merger and acquisition teams for Western Savings Bank, Goldome and Key Bank. 

Aja has embarked upon community involvement and has been a guest speaker on many panel discussions for small business ownership.  Her knowledge, expertise and willingness to assist the small business community in WNY have increased the level of SBA lending.  She actively assisted and mentored women business owners and presented at seminars for individuals interested in starting a new venue.  

Aja was selected for this award as an individual who assists small businesses through advocacy efforts to increase the usefulness and availability of accounting or financial services for small businesses.

 2014 District Director’s Small Business Week Special Recognition Award

Katharine Smith, White Rabbit Design, Buffalo, NY

Katharine Smith is the owner of White Rabbit Design, an advertising agency that specializes in commercial art, design and advertising.  As a small business owner and member of the SBA’s Buffalo District Small Business Community Forum, Smith serves as a liaison between the SBA and the small business community.  Her dedicated support, knowledge and advice on ways to improve the effectiveness of SBA’s current and proposed programs, particularly through the Buffalo district, have assisted and provided the our office with valuable recommendations that have garnered new opportunities throughout the small business community. 

Smith has not only supported SBA but has also been the “go to” small business for the local SCORE Chapter who utilizes White Rabbit Design for several of the chapter’s programming and marketing materials. 

This year, Smith will be given the 2014 District Director’s Small Business Week Special Recognition Award for her years of SBCF involvement and dedication to Buffalo district office and SCORE Buffalo Niagara. 

2014 District Director’s Small Business Week Special Award for Distinction & Achievement.

Lauren D. Rachlin, Esq., Hodgson Russ LLP, Buffalo, NY

Lauren D. Rachlin, Esq. is being honored this year for the District Director’s Small Business Week Special Award for Distinction and Achievement.  Rachlin was chosen to receive this award from SBA thanks to his leadership and membership on the SBA Buffalo District International Trade Task Force.  His strong relationship has helped build and maintain the task force for 27 years.  As a liaison between the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the small business community, Rachlin has consistently provided advice to the District Director on ways to improve the effectiveness of SBA current and proposed programs that serve the small business community.



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